What are the Indian Spy Agency–RAW’s hidden intentions?
In 1975, a referendum declared Sikkim as the 22nd state of India, and hence, the monarchy of the Chogyal dynasty collapsed. Around this time, Indian intelligence agency, RAW, namely Research and Analysis Wing, had their own agenda. One of their famous spy operatives, Rameshwar Nath Kao, planned to destabilize and annex Tarai, the southern region of Nepal, to India. Author RK Yadav writes in his book, Mission RAW:
“Kao told me that after the merger of Sikkim, he had a plan to disintegrate the Tarai area of Nepal. (…) Unfortunately, when elections were held in 1977, Indira Gandhi was defeated and her party did not come to power and Kao’s operation of merging Tarai and other assignments, did not materialize.”
Years later, in 2017, Prof. Dr. Shastra Dutta Pant wrote in his book, “Machination of RAW in Transitional Nepal”, about another spy operative, Kalbhusan Yadav, who was arrested in Pakistan on March 2016. According to Pant, Yadav claimed to having plans of destabilizing and separating the Tarai region of Nepal. These two accounts are 40 years apart, yet the two operatives provide the same narrative. This begs the question—what, really, is RAW’s purpose in Nepal? A good time-period to investigate would be the transitional phase of Nepal from a 240-year-old monarchy to a democratic republic, which took place in many tumultuous political steps.
During the Nepalese Civil War of 1997-2007, the Maoist Party of Nepal rebelled against the monarchy, its parliamentary government overseen by the Nepali Congress Party, and the National Army. They eventually became successful in installing a federal-democratic government in 2011. The question is, which side was RAW on? This is a mystifying question, and there is conflicting evidence for both perspectives.
In his book, “Battles of The New Republic, A Contemporary History of Nepal”, author Prashant Jha writes about an interview with a former RAW operative:
“Sitting on the top floor of one of Delhi’s premium hotels, he (a former RAW operative) said, ‘My organization’s engagement with the Maoists began in 2003. It was also the time when they were in talks with the king’s nominated government back in Nepal.’ But didn’t declaring the rebel group as terrorists and supporting Nepal’s security forces, yet keeping channels of communication open with the Maoists and allowing the top leaders to stay in India, reflect conflicting objectives at best and devious intent at worst?”
It is well known that the royal palace, the army, and the Nepali Congress collectively drew suspicion out of India’s ambiguous stance and accused Delhi for secretly supporting the rebels. The RAW operative, mentioned in Jha’s book, denies such claims. He defends RAW’s interaction with the rebels by stating that during times of conflict, it is important for intelligence agencies to maintain open channels of communication with all factions. In fact, he says, several members of the Maoist party were arrested in India and handed over to Nepal, including C.P. Gajurel “Gaurav”, Mohan Vaidya “Kiran”, and Matrika Yadav. However, there is also evidence to the contrary—Upendra Yadav, who was close to the Maoists, was arrested but mysteriously released.
Perhaps the most controversial event to occur during this period was the Nepalese Royal Massacre. On the fateful night of June 1, 2001, around 9 pm, 10 members of the royal family, including King Birendra, were shot and killed in Narayanhiti Palace. According to the official story, the perpetrator was Prince Dipendra, who, in a vengeful fit of rage, slew his family after being denied permission to marry his lover, Devyani Rana. Allegedly, he shot himself and eventually died in medical care. Although there is no concrete evidence, international agencies such as the CIA and RAW have been suspected to have orchestrated the event in order to remove Nepal from its nationalistic-monarchial rule. There are rumors of US militia agents being spotted at a hotel two days before the fateful night. However, these killings can be likened to the JFK assassination. To this day, people have pondered conspiracy theories about what “actually” happened with little evidence to support their claims. Logically speaking, it is a fact that King Birendra was a significant obstacle for international interests to take over in Nepal, including those of the U.S. and India, and it is indeed, after the fall of this weakened monarchy that the Maoists were successful in toppling the monarchy and installing a democratic government instead. However, the claim that the two secret agencies, CIA and RAW, jointly orchestrated the Royal Palace Massacre through clandestine means is, so far, unfounded.
Years later, in 2011, the political scene became more tranquil but still brimmed with activity. The interim Constituent Assembly, which formed after the fall of the monarchy, was formulating a Constitution for Nepal. At the same time, a change of personnel at RAW favored the Maoists. Sanjeev Tripathi, former cadre of Uttar Pradesh, took over as director and desired to re-engage with the Maoists. Furthermore, Alok Joshi, who served as the station chief in Nepal between 2008 and 2010 and thus knew the country’s geographical and political scene well, was appointed as the special secretary. In fact, on May 2011, he visited Nepal as a part of a diplomatic trip, accompanied by AB Mathur, deputy chief of RAW, and H. Khare, special representative of the Office of the Prime Minister of India. At this point, RAW had changed its stance from opposing the Maoists to cooperating with them. Hence, the agency encouraged the national security advisor, Shiv Shanker Menon, to cooperate with the Maoists. Additionally, on August 2011, Maoist member Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) met with senior RAW operatives in Kuala Lumpur. There, he shared the Maoists’ intent of mustering a majority in the House. RAW officials, at the time, assured Prachanda that they would not be in opposition to this result.
Finally, on September 20, 2015, Nepal’s interim government passed the Constitution. However, ethnic groups in the Terai (southern) region of Nepal rose in protests against it. India, on the other hand, despite the numerous diplomatic exchanges and gestures of goodwill, seemed to have barred the transport of essential goods such as petroleum and medicine to Nepal. When confronted, PM Modi retaliated by claiming that India was only blocking the supplies out of fear of the conflict ridden border. However, investigations showed that there were blockades even in regions without any agitation. This seemed to be a dubious move from India, and roused suspicions of hidden political motivations. Logically speaking, the agitated groups demanded a fully autonomous state from the Capital, which goes in tandem with RAW operatives Kao and Yadav’s claims of having ambitions to separate the southern belt of Nepal.
This begs the question—would the southern terai belt becoming autonomous be beneficial to Indian political interests? How involved is the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, in domestic affairs of Nepal? Do they have clandestine interests in the domestic politics of Nepal? So far, the evidence for these suspicions is scant but not insignificant. Further development in the politics of these regions should be closely monitored for signs of foul play, and, most importantly, Nepal’s politicians, journalists, as well as citizens must remain cohesive and vigilant.
Shaleen J. Shah is currently a Political Science and Journalism student (senior year) at Howard University. He has worked with The Kathmandu Post, Nepali Times, The Hilltop, and Muktiforum.
You can reach him at [email protected] or view his works at shaleenjshah.wordpress.com