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Nuts and Bolts of Naryanan and Indian National Security

by Sachi Sri Kantha

Hasn't Commissioner Verma euphemistically inferred that Narayanan as the DIB was rather impotent (the Commissioner had used the words ‘ineffective’ and ‘disability’) in his professional ability as the top dog of India’s Intelligence hierarchy? Commissioner Verma also had inferred that the “cause needs to be discovered and eradicated for the health of the polity.”

The cause is simple. To honor Chaplin, I’d name it the ‘Nuts and Bolts Syndrome’(NABS) of a gumshoe careerist.

Mayankote Kelath (M.K.) Narayanan is a nuts and bolts man in the Indian bureaucracy. Remember the hilarious scene in Chaplin’s classic Modern Times (1936) movie, where the lovable tramp character endures the monotonous factory assembly line job of tightening nuts with a spanner? When the speed of the factory belt of nuts is accelerated, the tramp tries to keep pace and loses his mind. His hands go berserk. Thereafter, whatever the tramp sees (including the buttons in the dress of a fellow woman worker), they appear as nuts and the tramp tries to tighten them with his spanner. Then, the tramp is taken on a ride along the gears of a gigantic wheel and he keeps on tightening the nuts with his spanner.

In his 1964 autobiography, Chaplin identified the origin of his idea for this scene. To quote, “I remembered an interview I had had with a bright young reporter on the New York World.

Hearing that I was visiting Detroit, he had told me of the factory-belt system there – a harrowing story of big industry luring healthy young men off the farms, who, after four or five years at the belt system, became nervous wrecks. It was that conversation that gave me the idea for Modern Times…” [Book: My Autobiography, by Charles Chaplin, Penguin Books, 1966, pp.377-378].

Charlie Chaplin in 'Modern Times'

Like the tramp character in Chaplin’s Modern Times, M.K. Narayanan (who has spent his whole professional career in the gumshoe assembly line of India’s security services and who currently serves as the National Security Advisor) similarly sees everything in India and its neighborhood as spies and terrorists. Why? He has reached the top of the gigantic wheel of Indian bureaucracy.

Narayanan’s speech delivered at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy on February 11th has received some publicity in the Sinhalese-oriented print and electronic media, for the understandable reason of his bad-mouthing of the LTTE. I’ll provide details below for why Narayanan is dyspeptic on the LTTE. First, let me dissect Narayanan’s speech briefly and expose this supreme gumshoe’s drift.

The Nutty Speech of Narayanan

To summarise the thrust of Narayanan’s speech, “terrorist outfits” employ the following eleven “common methods” “to generate funds”; (1) Voluntary contributions, (2) Forced/compulsory donations, (3) State support/sponsorship, (4) Extortion and use of coercive methods, (5) Association with Criminal Syndicates, (6) Utilisation of legitimate business enterprises, (7) Stock market operations, (8) Misuse of banking channels, (9) Narcotics, (10) Counterfeit currency, and (11) Charities.

Among these eleven methods, Narayanan has identified the LTTE by name with three methods, namely voluntary contributions, utilisation of legitimate business enterprises and narcotics. Among these three, the first two are legal and approved. It's only the narcotics method which has a negative image in social evaluation. I have two comments.

First, in his Munich speech, Narayanan has failed to provide any authenticating supporting evidence (such as conviction of LTTE personnel in any court case within India, which is his parish of influence) for LTTE involvement in the narcotics trade. Thus, his charge against the LTTE can be dismissed as mere high sounding gas, due to regurgitation of anti-LTTE pabulum circulated by self-anointed “terrorism specialists” like Peter Chalk, Bruce Hoffman, Rohan Gunaratna and Dayan Jayatilleka.

Secondly, the problem with gumshoe analysts and journalist hacks is that they commit the cardinal sin of analyzing trends without proper controls. Is it only the “terrorist outfits” who use the above-stated eleven “common methods” to “generate funds”? How about comparing the fund-generation methods with other segments of society? I list some; political election campaigns in “democracies” like the USA and India, banks in the USA and India, gumshoe agencies in “democracies” like the USA and India, amusement industries including Bollywood (about which Mr. Narayanan should know something)? Are these so-called respectable segments of civilization allergic to the so-called “common methods” show-cased by Mr.Narayanan, such as “extortion and use of coercive methods”, “association with criminal syndicates”, “stock market operations”, “misuse of banking channels”, “narcotics”, and “counterfeit currency”?

Narayanan as the Eelam Policy Panjandrum in the 1980s

Narayanan is now touted, in a biographical stub of a Wikipedia entry, as a “specialist in Sri Lankan affairs”. Huh!! If this is so, history has not been kind to this “specialist in Sri Lankan affairs.” I provide below the complete text of a box report which appeared in the Time magazine of April 3, 1989, for an objective evaluation. Narayanan was a pillar of Eelam policy in New Delhi at that time. Though for obvious reasons (of unnamed sources and time deadlines which smudge the reports appearing in the weekly newsmagazine) one cannot agree with all the sentences in this Time magazine’s box report, the gist of it is not inaccurate.

Sri Lanka: Case Study of a Disaster

[courtesy: Time magazine-Asian Edition, April 3, 1989, pp.12-13]

“Sri Lanka was the watershed”, says Ashley Tellis, a US expert on South Asian security issues. “India showed it was willing to use force even when there was no clear-cut security threat”. Agrees a US State Department official: “Although India in the past has had strained relations with nearly all its neighbors, it had not taken advantage of its preponderant power to make them toe the line until the India-Sri Lanka accord of July 1987”.

The story of how and why India recruited, trained and armed thousands of minority Tamils from Sri Lanka and then sent them back to the island to wage a guerrrilla war against the government of then President J.R.Jayewardene has never been fully told. To this day New Delhi denies its former sponsorship of several Tamil separatist factions, but interviews with former Tamil guerrilla leaders, Sri Lankan intelligence operatives and Indian diplomats reveal that from the early 1980s onward, Indian officials viewed support for the Tamil cause as first and foremost a means of asserting Indian influence in Sri Lanka. The same sources describe how Indian intelligence agents were so deeply involved in orchestrating the insurgency that at times they provided the guerrillas with detailed operational plans.

New Delhi’s sponsorship of the separatists had its origins in Jayewardene’s 1977 election victory, which drove Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, a friend and ally of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, from power. Jayewardene soon angered Mrs.Gandhi by adopting pro-Western foreign and economic policies that New Delhi interpreted as a rejection of its leadership in South Asia. Jayewardene applied for membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; Indian officials suspected that he might even be on the verge of offering military bases and listening posts to the US.

In domestic politics, Jayewardene made a fateful error: he spurned every opportunity to reach an accomodation with Sri Lanka’s Tamils – 2 million among 12 million Sinhalese – who rightly felt they were being cut off from higher education and government jobs. A few dozen alienated Tamil youths formed underground groups that advocated the creation of Eelam, an independent Tamil nation in the northern and eastern parts of the island. In 1982 agents of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s foreign intelligence agency, recruited one of those groups, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization, and brought them to India for training in espionage and sabotage. An Indian diplomat who was deeply involved in policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka during that period says it was no accident that RAW chose TELO, which had a large criminal element and was politically unsophisticated. “TELO, which had no goals and no ideology,” he says, “was the perfect private army for RAW.”

In July 1983, triggered by the ambush and slaughter of 13 soldiers by Tamil terrorists, Sinhalese mobs in Colombo attacked Tamils in their homes and shops, killing hundreds. The communal rioting shocked India’s own Tamil population of 50 million. Soon thereafter, RAW began to recruit hundreds of members of at least five Tamil separatist groups. Much of the training took place at the Indian army’s Dehra Dun complex in the Himalayan foothills, where the recruits were taught how to handle small arms and how to make land mines using gelignite, which was to become the explosive of choice for one of the groups, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

By late 1984, hundreds of trained fighters were back in Sri Lanka, where they mounted acts of sabotage against government facilities. When attacks on military tagets failed to make Jayewardene budge, RAW encouraged killings of Sinhalese civilians to put more pressure on Colombo. Says Uma Maheswaran, leader of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam: “A RAW officer asked us to throw a grenade into a Sinhalese cinema or put a bomb in a bus or market in a Sinhalese town. Only we and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front refused.” Agrees an Eelam People’s leader: “The RAW agents offered us money to massacre Sinhalese. But we refused.” The Tigers, by contrast, were cooperative. In May 1985 two busloads of Tigers drove into the ancient Sinhalese capital of Anuradhapura and, in the town’s main bus station, opened fire with automatic weapons, slaughtering 143 civilians there and elsewhere. According to one of the participants in the killing spree, Tiger leader Vilupillai Prabakaran was in radio contact with RAW agents during and after the massacre.

The killings prompted the Colombo government to agree for the first time to negotiate with the guerrillas. The talks collapsed, but the new Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, seemed reluctant to allow RAW to escalate the level of fighting. Later, when India stepped up its support of TELO, the Tigers showed their displeasure at New Delhi’s favoritism by attacking TELO camps and murdering some 150 of its members, thereby neutralizing RAW’s favorite Tamil clients. RAW agents were apoplectic, but realized that they would have to work with the Tigers as the dominant Tamil force. In May 1987, when the Sri Lankan army launched an offensive against Tiger strongholds in the Jaffna peninsula, New Delhi obliquely warned Jayewardene not to push too hard, lest India be obliged to intervene. The Sri Lankan President appealed to Pakistan, China and the US for help, but got little encouragement.

The last straw for Jayewardene came in June 1987, when India began training the Tigers in the use of surface-to-air missles – and then proposed an accord between New Delhi and Colombo. Under its terms Indian peacekeeping troops would disarm the guerrillas and Sri Lanka’s Tamils would be granted a measure of regional autonomy. The annex to the accord (an exchange of letters between Gandhi and Jayewardene) amounted to Sri Lanka’s granting India a voice in its foreign and military policy. Jayewardene felt he had little choice but to accede. Once the pact was signed, on July 29, 1987, India no longer had neeed for the guerrillas. A few weeks later it blocked the Tigers’ attempt to take control of a new provincial council in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. At the same time, New Delhi ordered its force of 15,000 soldiers, which by then had been deployed on the island, to disarm the Tigers.

It was only then that what had looked like an Indian success story showed its disastrous downside. Law-and-order collapsed in large parts of southern Sri Lanka as Sinhalese extremists denounced the accord as a treasonous sellout and rallied Sinhalese support with appeals to anti-Indian patriotism. Furious, the Tigers struck at Indian army posts in northern Sri Lanka in the first phase of a new insurgency that persists to this day. Some 800 Indian soldiers have died at the hands of the Tigers. India still has 100,000 troops and paramilitary forces committed to the Sri Lankan operation, yet it has failed to put down the guerrillas. The simmering conflict may not be India’s Viet Nam,but it provides the lesson for New Delhi that even an emerging superpower must recognize its limits.


I wish to focus only on a single item in this box report which appeared in the Time magazine of April 13, 1989.

Uma Maheswaran, the then leader of PLOTE, had brashly revealed that the RAW operatives had induced his cadres to throw grenades and bombs to kill Sinhalese civilians in a bus, market or cinema theater. Four months later, the same Uma Maheswaran was assassinated in Colombo by unknown gunmen. Even now, I have doubts that there cannot be any link between Uma Maheswaran’s expose of RAW operatives and his subsequent assassination.

Bolts from the Verma Commission Report (1992)

Via an online vendor, in late 2004, I was able to purchase a copy of the Justice J.S. Verma Commission Inquiry Report (June 1992) on the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. This was after I had completed writing my analysis on Rajiv Gandhi assassination for my ‘Pirabhakaran Phenomenon’ text, serialized between 2001 and 2003. In this Inquiry Report, M.K. Narayanan receives two not-so favorable mentions, pertaining to his then role as the Director of the Intelligence Bureau (DIB) in 1991. I quote these below.

Chapter XI of Verma Commission Report

“11.05: It is of some significance that a report dated 22.5.1991 of M.K.Narayanan, DIB, to the Prime Minister which is in the documents of the Central Government and is annexed as ANNEXURE XXXVI, made a mention of some ‘video pictures and stated that video pictures of this part of the meeting are presently being scanned to try and identify the lady.’ The ‘lady’ referred was the suspected human bomb mentioned in the DIB’s report. This part of the report of the DIB mentioning the fact that scanning of video pictures was being done to identify the ‘lady’ does indicate that on 22.5.1991, there were available video pictures of that part of the meeting which could reveal the identification of the suspected human bomb. No such video pictures were made available by the S.I.T.[i.e. Special Investigation Team] or Tamil Nadu police and it was specifically stated by the S.I.T. Chief, D.R.Karthikeyan that no other video cassettes were available with the S.I.T.” (page 53).

Isn’t this something within the parameters of ‘evidence tampering’ by Mr. Narayanan and/or D.R. Karthikeyan?

Chapter XIV of Verma Commission Report

“14.24: The Commission is left with the impression that the DIB M.K.Narayanan was not satisfied with the security arrangements for Rajiv Gandhi and was apprehensive about his safety but for some undisclosed reason he was ineffective and has chosen to maintain silence even now. If this impression of the Commission be correct, such disability in the holder of a high office is disturbing and its cause needs to be discovered and eradicated for the health of the polity.” (page 75).

Hasn't Commissioner Verma euphemistically inferred that Narayanan as the DIB was rather impotent (the Commissioner had used the words ‘ineffective’ and ‘disability’) in his professional ability as the top dog of India’s Intelligence hierarchy? Commissioner Verma also had inferred that the “cause needs to be discovered and eradicated for the health of the polity.”

The cause is simple. To honor Chaplin, I’d name it the ‘Nuts and Bolts Syndrome’(NABS) of a gumshoe careerist.


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