Bhagat Ram Talwar has remained enigmatic in the history of India’s independence, but a new book reveals the many avatars he took on as he spied for five countries while double crossing the iconic leader, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Silver, The Spy Who Fooled the Nazis, the Most Remarkable Agent of the Second World War, by London-based writer Mihir Bose, throws light on the improbable career of Talwar, who was nicknamed “Silver” by the British.
Bose told Hindustan Times: “My book based on extensive research in British, German, Italian and even Russian archives finally reveals the full truth of how Silver deceived India and the world. It also raises questions about how the Communist Party of India lied to the Indian nation about its role during World War 2.
“In 1976, Silver wrote a book repeating his lies that he had helped Bose and had only spied for the Axis powers but completely concealing his work for the British and the Russians,” Bose added, noting he was a member of the communist party and the book was an official publication of the CPI, published by People’s Publishing House and publicised as the CPI’s great contribution to India’s freedom.
Talwar was Hindu who lived amicably with the Muslim majority in the erstwhile North West Frontier Province of British India and successfully posed as a Muslim, calling himself Rahmat Khan. He operated between Peshawar and Kabul, and was the only quintuple spy of World War 2, spying for the Germans, Italians, Japanese, Russians and British.
He fooled the Germans so successfully that they gave him £2.5 million, in today’s money, and the Iron Cross. Between 1941 and 1945, he made 12 journeys from Peshawar to Kabul, all on foot, carrying false information for the Germans, Bose said.
“The CPI decided to use Silver to show (that portraying) the party as helping the British was not accurate as through Silver they had helped the man who left India to organise an army to free the country. Silver’s book was presented as a truthful memoir of a great patriot, when in fact it was a propaganda tool meant to improve the image of the Indian communists,” he said.
“In my book, having gone through SOE files, I have exposed what a farrago of lies this is,” Bose said.
The book sets out how Talwar became a spy. His first journey to Kabul in February 1941 was made escorting Subhas Chnadra Bose from India to the Afghan capital as the leader sought help from Axis powers to free India. Before Bose left Kabul, he nominated Talwar as his agent to the Italians and this was how his spying career began.
Talwar was swiftly taken over by the Germans, who had a large amount of money in Kabul for intelligence and sabotage work. Although he worked for the Axis powers, Talwar was a member of Kirti Party, a Punjab-based communist party that merged with the CPI during the war.
The moment Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941, Talwar contacted the Russians in Kabul and told them everything. A few months later, they told the British about Talwar and he eventually came under the control of Peter Fleming, the brother of Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books. It was Fleming who gave him the code-name Silver.
This was the only time the Russians shared an agent with the British in the most amazing spy operation of World War 2. The Germans provided him with a transmitter and, with the help of Fleming, he broadcast fictitious military information three times a day daily from the gardens of the Viceroy’s Palace in Delhi to the headquarters of the German intelligence in Berlin.
As the time, Subhas Chandra Bose was in Berlin, trying to organise a revolt against the British, totally unaware that Talwar was feeding him and the Germans false information. Netaji never discovered he had been double-crossed by Talwar.
The British rated him as one of their best spies and provided him with a nice home in Delhi, complete with a chowkidar and paid for him to have holidays at several places, including Nanital.
At the end of the war, the British paid him a large sum of money so he could disappear in the NWFP, which he did. He returned to India only after Partition, taking up residence in Uttar Pradesh, where he died in 1983.