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Jaswant and the jasoos

Little did he foresee his claim there was a 'mole' in the Prime Minister?s Office in 1995 would boomerang, writes Karan Thapar.

india Updated: Aug 06, 2006 01:14 IST

With each passing day Jaswant Singh is tying himself in knots.

Little did he foresee his claim there was a ‘mole’ in the Prime Minister’s Office in 1995 would boomerang. He was privy to this information for ten years but did nothing about it.

The charge that he ‘protected’ a traitor has become of greater consequence than the revelation that India’s nuclear secrets were leaked to the United States. As he strives to extricate himself, he ends up digging deeper.

Let’s start with Jaswant Singh’s statement in the Rajya Sabha.

He claims the letter was written by a certain Thomas Graham and sent to Harry Barnes. However, on pages 125-126 of his book he wrote: “This letter had been sent that very year (1995) to a United States senator”.

But Harry Barnes was never a US senator. In 1981-85 he was Ambassador to India. In 1995 he was at The Carter Center. So which of Jaswant Singh’s claims is correct? Was the letter sent to a US senator or to its former ambassador?

Of greater consequence is the question: how many people has Jaswant Singh ‘protected’ by failing to reveal this information earlier? The mole is obviously one. But I would suggest that the letter’s ‘real’ author, who had access to the mole and was presumably an intelligence official in the US Embassy, is another. I assume he was the mole’s handler.

In which case he’s bound to have handled many others. Had Jaswant revealed what he knew to the Rao Government, in all likelihood it would have declared the man persona non grata. In that event he would have had no further access to all the informants/moles he was running. But since that never happened his access to his moles continued. In turn he would have continued to exploit them.

Now let’s turn to the many reasons Jaswant Singh has given for not revealing this information earlier. In an interview to me on CNBC he claimed he didn’t do so because the government was responsible for the leak.

He argued that if an individual in the government was leaking that meant the government as a whole was doing so. He therefore concluded the government must know what it was doing and there was no need to inform it. This is so bizarre, it’s hard to know whether Jaswant Singh was serious or making a silly attempt at misplaced humour.

A second reason is that governments were changing so rapidly he did not know who to inform. Again, this is untrue. Between 1995 (the year of the letter) and 1998 (when the BJP took over) there were only three governments.

More importantly, if you read the letter carefully it’s fairly certain it was written around the middle of November 1995. The reference to Thanksgiving gives this away. However, the Narasimha Rao government continued for six months more till May 1996 which, undoubtedly, was enough time for him to pass on the information.

There are three other reasons he’s given for not making things public.

First, the information became redundant after the 1998 Pokhran tests. Perhaps but by the same token it was of critical importance for the three preceding years.

Second, to have acted on this information after the BJP came to power would have smacked of a witch-hunt. May be but then it follows he was more concerned about his own or his party’s image than India’s national security.

Third, the mole had left India and was working abroad. But does a suspect escape justice simply by leaving the country? In which case why is the BJP so keen to pursue Dawood Ibrahim?

The strangest part of this saga is Jaswant Singh’s insistence he’s given the Prime Minister all the information he has and there’s no name of a specific mole to add. In which case how could he have earlier claimed the man had gone abroad? Or that he was a member of the PMO? Or, even, that he was “a civil or uncivil servant”? You can’t be so specific if you don’t know who you’re talking about!

In the CNBC interview, when I claimed people would think he was “protecting” a traitor, he got extremely angry. He said I was insulting him. In fact he insisted this was tantamount to calling him a traitor. I begged to differ but held my ground.

Only two conclusions seem possible : Jaswant Singh — wittingly or unwittingly — ‘protected’ a traitor or he’s exaggerated/misunderstood/simply got wrong the contents of the letter he was given in 1995.

No wonder his party is upset. National security is a major political issue for the BJP. This April it carried out a nationwide Bharat Suraksha Yatra. Now it seems its former defence minister has a far more cavalier attitude to the subject.