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The mole has taken its toll

Jaswant Singh may not have realised that writing A Call to Honour would do to him what Pak visit did to LK Advani, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Aug 07, 2006 01:48 IST

Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh may not have realised that writing A Call to Honour would do to him what the Pakistan visit did to his senior colleague, L.K. Advani. If remarks in praise of M.A. Jinnah by Advani rubbed the RSS  the wrong way, then the reference to a mole in Singh’s book has taken a similar toll on the author. While Advani, because of his long standing in the Sangh, was able to resurrect himself politically to some extent, Singh may not be as lucky. He may need Advani’s extraordinary political abilities to save him from the wrath of senior Sangh members, parliamentarians and his community members who are feeling let down because their honour, too, has been questioned following Singh’s inability to name the mole — the crucial letter proving to be an imitation, or perhaps, a forgery.

If Singh has lost credibility, he has only himself to blame. After keeping the suspense alive for so long and making incoherent statements on the identity of the mole, he finally amended the text of his book and stated in Parliament that it was not a Senator but a former envoy who was on one end of the published communication and a Rockefeller Center programme officer on the other. Unfortunately for him, both denied being part of any such correspondence. This made Singh look like a person with questionable credentials.

The Congress, of course, now wants a privilege motion moved against him. The RSS has suggested that he should be replaced as the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha. Troubled days are here for Singh, whose word on other issues, including the exchange of hostages in the IC-814 Kandahar hijacking episode, is also going to be put under close scrutiny. It’s obvious that the BJP has been put on a sticky wicket and has to, for the time being, make do with a leader whose credibility is now in question. Imagine what must have been the impact on the people who voted for the party.

This is also the first time that both the BJP’s Leaders of Opposition in the two Houses are on the wrong side of hardcore RSS functionaries. Even if it’s a part of internal power play within the Sangh parivar, it is bound to leave an impact on the cadres since they take directions from the RSS. Even otherwise, both are not leaders of any great mass appeal, though Advani, to his credit, will always go down as one of the shrewdest politicians from the Sangh stable. But that is perhaps not enough.

While it is for his own party to judge him or punish him, the issue of the mole raised by Singh shall continue to remain alive for some time despite the fact that the controversy has shifted from the mole to the ‘forged letters’. Even though he has stated that he knows no mole or any mole’s name, Singh’s word cannot be taken for granted.  When his claims about the letter were found to be bogus, his declaration that there was no mole may be equally spurious. Therefore, it is for the intelligence agencies to go into the matter thoroughly and ascertain whether Singh is telling the truth or is now trying to conceal some crucial facts linked to the security of the nation by being dodgy on the mole business.

Moles have existed in virtually every governments since Independence but in most cases, their identity has never come out in the public domain. There is evidence to suggest that the erstwhile KGB and the CIA as also Pakistan’s ISI have often penetrated our sensitive positions and managed to gather information with the aid of key functionaries. Successive governments have, in some cases, had an inkling of espionage activities but were unable to either fully prevent them or woke up after the spies had taken off.

Even the handling of spy cases has not been satisfactory. Question marks exist on the manner in which the Ram Sarup episode, the Isro espionage matter and the Coomar Narain case were managed. This is not to run down the counter espionage outfits. But it’s a fact that no CIA undercover agent has ever been arrested in the country while he or she was operating. At best, our agencies came to know the identities of the agents only after they had left or were discovered in some other countries. In the Larkins case, one of our agencies came to know the name of the CIA handler, but he had left by then.

Then there have been stories of a certain American lady diplomat who functioned as a spy in the early Seventies and interacted with a senior Union minister, who was detected by the IB while entering her home near Mandi House from the back entrance. The lady was also allegedly involved with a senior IFS official, who later rose to become the foreign secretary. She also later served in Nepal and some other countries. But she was never caught and it could never be established that she had anything to do with cloak and dagger activities.

India has vast resources and a huge network of both internal and external agencies. This network needs to be strengthened further. In the past, question marks have been raised on how senior people working in intelligence set-ups returned home on completion of their assignment. But their children stayed behind and, in some cases, also acquired foreign nationality.

While it may be normal for this to happen in other professions, in the world of intelligence, this raises many eyebrows. In the Rabindra Singh case, it is often alleged that he was not prevented from leaving the country since he may have named some other moles had he been arrested, making the matter even more complicated. In another instance, a senior intelligence functionary, Shamsher Singh, never returned home but settled down in the country of his posting. These lapses obviously need plugging and one is sure that our top decision-makers must be working in this direction already.

The mole matter is a peg on which a number of issues related to the country’s security can now be reviewed and examined. Jaswant Singh may have had a political agenda in raising the issue but it should be now used by our security experts to the nation’s advantage. Between us.

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