Bangladesh National Party (BNP), under Khaleda Zia, came to power in early 1990s. The two Begums, Khaleda and Sheikh Hasina (Awami League), along with Jamait–i-Islami joined hands to push for democracy and ousted General Ershaad from power. The Nationalists were anti-India in their outlook, and found supported from the pro-Pakistan extremists of the Jamait-ul-Islami. ISI increased its presence manifold and gave active support, funds and training to the JuI to give impetus to their anti-India activities. Illegal immigration, cross-border smuggling and targeting of Indians and Hindus became the order of the day.
The Indian government and RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) were alarmed at these developments. We had to do something. RAW top brass came up with an idea of an operation which involved bombing the JuI sleeper cells across the border, propaganda offices, training grounds and some mosques where anti-India conspiracies were hatched. Bangladesh not only gave sanctuary to these anti-India elements, but also promoted illegal immigration to create trouble in the North-East.
An elaborate plan was put into place, but the HQ found that the costs involved were quite exorbitant, and decided to drop the whole mission. Doubts were also raised about the efficacy and objectives of the mission. How would bombing a few cells and offices of JuI help the Indian cause, and might even backfire. Agreed, we wanted to help the Awami League, and the jailed General (who was reportedly pro-India and pro-West), but this mission was sure to direct the anger of the Islamists versus Bangladeshi Hindus.
But a self-motivated RAW handler in Calcutta who was put in charge of the operation decided to get funding from a jailed politician looking towards India for some kind of rehabilitation, or at least better treatment during incarceration. I think the author points his fingers towards Gen. Ershad of the Jatiya Party, who is believed to have funded this operation. It was decided to not only cause blasts at nine sites along the border, but also hit five targets inside the country so as lend suspicion towards the League as well. It was hoped that Jamait and League would end up fighting riots, and destabilise Bangladesh and maybe result in fresh elections which might help pro-India elements. It was also to send a message to the Jamait and the Bangladeshi government that India would not remain a passive bystander as radicalism and anti-India feelings got entrenched.
The chosen Handler of the mission was given virtually no help by the top brass, and had to overcome the jealousies of the colleagues and problems involved with the planning of the operation single handedly .This says a lot about our system. Our ideas and intent often lose their effectiveness by getting trapped in the rigmaroles of the system. This spectacular operation probably materialised sometime in the early 1992. It brought the JuI wrath upon Awami League supporters, and resulted in large scale riots, which later got directed against Hindus of Bangladesh as well.
But a message was delivered that we are capable of striking for the sake of our self-interests. In fact situation became pretty bad later in the year after the Babari Mosque demolition and large scale violence was directed against Indians .Virulent anti-India propaganda reached its peak when the Bangladeshi Parliament passed a resolution condemning the demolition .India found it very tough to manage Khaleda-led Bangladesh.
Sujal Rath, the fictitious head of the operation, overcame a lot of professional problems and roadblocks to give shape to this mission. Imagine an operation of this scale being carried out, with the cost to the Indian exchequer coming out to be zero. One has to suspend disbelief to appreciate this kind of commitment, and tactfulness to fully appreciate this feat. The author, Amar Bhushan, says he has written as it as it happened. A senior officer of his standing can be believed (which is quite hard actually). He is a 1967 batch IPS officer who himself spent quite a lot of time in intelligence and as such has the right credentials to churn out some spy thrillers.
But I found it quite odd how Sujal Rath used to discuss every case detail with his wife. I don’t know how professional was this aspect, but then that man was made of a different stuff. One would like to raise a toast to this officer, whoever and wherever he is now. The story of this mission demonstrates how our systems remain weak and it takes a motivated, single minded individual to carry out great feats in this country. Twenty five years later, the situation has not changed for better.
In The Wilful Agent, two RAW operatives recruit and run an agent in Dhaka against all odds from 1993 onwards. The situation for India was as bad as it gets. This recruit used to sit on a desk in the foreign office, and passed on some valuable information on the Pakistan-Bangladesh nexus, anti-Hindu bias of the administration, support to anti-India Islamists, and even the growing involvement of China in Bangladesh. By delivering cables and copies through drop boxes, this spy provided valuable information to India for quite a long period.
Our two operatives, the Dhaka Station head named Jeevnathan (named as such by the author), and his junior officer, faced a lot of trouble from their immediate seniors in Kolkata office and Delhi, but somehow found ways to fund the mission and keep the spy interested. The rather audacious Bangladeshi spy was later caught and jailed, but, as the story says, Jeevnathan helped his family during their difficult phase, and even got him out of prison.
Vishal Bhardwaj is making a film on The Zero Cost Mission. These two stories seem quite honest in their tone and approach. Amar Bhushan has a treasure trove which he has promised to gradually open for the world to savour. RAW is a much maligned secret service in India. We Indians don’t give enough credit to our foreign intelligence agency and its silent warriors who do their best, despite the system to keep Indian interests secure.
Abhinav Pancholi, IRS, Kolkata. The author is an avid sports lover with a passion for literature.
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