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RAW by Yatish Yadav: a book review

Tale of unsung heroes and covert operations

Every war teaches us some big lessons. The breach in intelligence that occurred in the 1962 Indo-China war and then subsequent defeat called for the need for more specialized intelligence gathering. Later post 1965 Indo-Pak war which ended in a stalemate situation led to the establishment of the Research and Analysis Wing that we now as R&AW. Prior to that, the overseas missions were handled by IB, stretching out their officers. The major difference between IB (Intelligence Bureau) and R&AW was perhaps that the latter had their own dedicated cadres permanently joined into the institution.

Once Bangladesh was liberated from Pakistan in the 1971 war, it was expected to face some initial hiccups like every other newly independent state but as the country saw the assassination of its leader “Bangabandhu” and with this, the country entered into a new spiral of turmoil. Although Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led the revolution to free the country, he rapidly became unpopular due to widespread corruption, nepotism, violence, and lawlessness. The murder of Mujibur Rahman led to the coup which got rapid support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. This possessed a threat to India as she was surrounded by unfriendly neighbors from all sides given Pakistan and China were there already. It was later understood that the coup was being planned for a long time by the Bangladeshi ambassador in Kuwait.

Here, the country was under emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. The first chapter "bloodbath in Bangladesh" went into detail about the development and faces behind the coup, often citing reports of other countries too. It is written in a textbook format of international politics, not enough to clear the role of the R&AW apart from backing student protests and pro-secular parties.

The crisis of Indian diaspora living in Fiji was due to a sudden coup by Sitiveni Rabuka, a Fijian ethnic who didn’t want Indians on “his” land. Indians, mostly indentured laborers from UP and Bihar went to work in the sugarcane plantations of the British colonial rulers. Post-independence, the Indian originated Fijians had almost 50% population and the rest were the ethnic groups, Chinese and Europeans. Rabuka who was known as someone who hated Indians and wanted them to be thrown out of the country thus generating the fear of genocide, persecution, property damage among many others. The world has already seen the Jewish holocaust during world war 2 (although was yet to see Rwanda!), the agency which was already well established for 18 years felt the pressure of intervention along with diplomatic pressure to ensure the reversal of the coup and safety of the diaspora.

The author delved deeper into the world views regarding the crisis, the demographic structure of the island country, the mounting evidence of human rights abuse, the view of Indian political leaders, and finally actions taken by the agency. The agents who operated from an undisclosed base in Australia launched a series of campaigns in Australia and New Zealand that supported the autocratic Fijian leader. The target was to publish the hidden news on the international level in order to develop pressure on Fiji and subsequently to revoke the military rule. The agents used the ancient method of “divide and rule” in order to dampen the power of Rabuka. It took a couple of hiccups and betrayal and ultimately the security of the Indian population was ensured and the general election was conducted in 1992.

Yatish Yadav, an investigative journalist sheds light on one of the biggest, yet mysterious intelligence agencies of the world. He focused on giving information along with detailed proofs. He mentioned the unfolding of incidents both within the institution and the political ones. Not much is known about RAW but the author’s efforts to unravel the truth are commendable.

The agents display Sherlock-like capabilities. The primary objective is to ensure the safety of both, the territory and its people. Again and again, he brought on the changing dynamics of other nations, mostly the USA, China, Russia, and the UN. I did expect the book to be in line with Mossad by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal which provokes nationalism but rather the author focused more on information, rather than dramatizing it, just how it is expected from a journalist.


The Research and Analysis Wing, India’s shadowy external intelligence agency, is one of the country’s least understood institutions—at least in part by design. Perhaps fittingly for a spy agency, there is very little information about R&AW in the public domain. What is this organization, its structure, its role, and its vision? Why was it set up? Who are the people that run it?

Set up in 1968, as a reaction to India’s massive intelligence failure during the war with China, R&AW played a crucial role in the formation of Bangladesh. It has since carried out highly successful covert operations in Fiji, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, and has countered and foiled Pakistani spy agency ISI’s machinations in the subcontinent. R&AW has operations in other parts of the globe too; it played an important role during the Iran–Iraq war, for instance.

No country can increase its global reach without intelligence support. That India has made enormous strides in its stature and influence is testimony to R&AW’s success. Yet, public accounts of its work exist only in highly romanticized fictional stories. Investigative journalist Yatish Yadav follows the lives of real agents and maps their actions in real situations. His conversations with Indian spies provide insight into how covert operations actually work. RAW: A History of India’s Covert Operations is the first comprehensive account of Indian spy networks and their intelligence gathering, and their role in securing and advancing Indian interests.

RAW a history of India's covert operations by Yatish Yadav is published by Westland books and to order your copies buy here.


The writer is an investigative journalist and author. He has spent more than 15 years covering intelligence and investigative agencies and extensively reported on conflicts in Kashmir, the Northeast, and the red corridor.

Reach out to him on Twitter.

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