Intelligence Bureau of India: Character & Credibility
The Indian government recently made several nefarious claims in the Supreme Court of India about the role of Khalistani activists in the ongoing farmers’ protest on the basis of information they allegedly received from the IB (Intelligence Bureau). The pertinent question, though, is that how reliable is the information when quoted with reference to IB? Are these powerful secret services agencies really impartial? Do they even work in the public interest?
Panthak Sevadaar, avid writer and commentator.
India's covert agencies were established as complicated, arbitrary and unreliable bodies, and this is reflected in the hostility expressed towards them within the general public. Generally, in society and especially among those sections who are in persistent resistance against state oppression, axioms like these can be commonly heard that "so-and-so organization must have been infiltrated by the agencies," or "so-and-so must be working for the agencies—be wary of him." Though such statements are also sometimes made to defame political opponents, it clearly illustrates the disdain associated with such agencies. Despite this, we cannot deny the role these agencies play in turning dissident communities against each other for their own vested interests.
These agencies have significant and extensive control over the personal information of Indian citizens with the least degree of accountability for their actions. The autocratic working style of these agencies has been built intrinsically in their character since their inception by the colonial establishment. They have reportedly fabricated false stories to implicate common people in criminal activities and destroy their lives in the service of the ruling class typically and in particular ensuring that the Brahmanical control over India remains intact.
The Intelligence Bureau, commonly known as IB, was established by the British to spy on their “Indian” subjects during their colonial occupation. After 1947, this agency was retained, as it is, by the neo-colonial rulers of India.
After “independence” in 1947, the security and intelligence apparatus of the British was not dismantled--control was just carefully transferred to a select few by the colonial administrators. The new rulers of India retained the administrative system, the judiciary, the army, the police manuals, the laws with only a few adjustments here and there (the phenomenon of amendments continued further in the interest of the ruling class rather than making them pro-people). The administrative structure and powers of the police remained the same, the military infrastructure was divided between India and Pakistan, and the Indian Civil Service was simply renamed as the Indian Administrative Service. This is why describing the change as freedom or independence is inaccurate--this was merely a transfer of power.
In 1885, Major General Charles Mc Gregor was assigned by the British to head intelligence activities within the British Indian Army. At the time, the main purpose of the intelligence agency was to monitor the activities of Russian troops in Afghanistan. In the next phase, the Indian Political Intelligence Office was set up in 1909 to keep a close eye on anti-colonial activists and revolutionaries. The same agency was re-established in 1921 as a full-fledged surveillance and intelligence agency operating in close liaison with Britain's Scotland Yard and the British intelligence agency MI-5. Housed in the British Indian Office, that very colonial agency was simply renamed the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in 1947.
The Intelligence Bureau (IB) has subsidiary units in every state as in the British era. Each state unit works closely with the respective state’s own intelligence agency (State Intelligence Branch) as well as local police. The state agencies and central agencies rely on each other in this intricate web to spy on subjects in each other's jurisdiction using intelligence sharing protocols as their cover. Thus, this bureaucratic arrangement takes on a complex character to mask the corrupt and arbitrary reality of intelligence sharing, which is mostly based on a murky ecosystem of back- channels. Understanding this relationship makes it quite obvious how easily even “uncorrupt” case officers become implicated in the problematic nature of this arrangement. This legacy and operating style results in a culture which, in no way, is trustworthy. This design, which is in the service of the neo-colonial rulers, is at the heart of the distrust and disdain expressed for the agency.
From the Indian State’s point of view, the main responsibilities of the IB are to gather intelligence and help in counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism activities. In reality however, it is common knowledge that these agencies have been manipulated heavily for political purposes.
The conflicts between India’s various intelligence and investigative agencies are well known and they have all respectively accused each other of putting the other's lives and property at risk. Major General (Retd.) V.K. Singh has also mentioned this in his book written on India's external intelligence agency, RAW (R&AW), stating that "Rivalry between the three major intelligence agencies, RAW, IB and MI, has done a lot of damage not only to the agencies but also to the nation.” He continues: "The reluctance to share intelligence is the bane of all agencies, at least in India. The proclivity to take the credit has given rise to the unpardonable trend in every agency of keeping vital intelligence close to its chest until it is disclosed to someone important enough in the political hierarchy, sometimes even the prime minister.” Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which was formed to deal with this problem arising out of rivalry, has failed to live up to the expectations and as per reports, “the committee is almost defunct and rarely meets”. In view of all these realities, it is not surprising that the credibility and legitimacy of such arbitrary institutions is near non-existent.
Despite the IB’s powerful organization and oversight of an enormous amount of communications intercepts (ranging from telephonic, electronic, and physical communication), the agency’s activities in this area have no constitutional validity in India despite reports that they read at least 6,000 letters a day. Accordingly, the legality of the IB has been questioned numerous times. A public interest litigation filed in the court in 2013 questioned the legality of the IB’s operations. When the court asked the Center to clarify its position on the issue, the Center replied that "IB is a civil body which has no police powers." Apparently it falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs despite the absence of any act or executive order of the Indian Parliament on the basis of which the working style or jurisdiction of the IB is defined. The agency--with no legal or constitutional status--has an annual budget of INR. 1,500 to 2,000 crores. Apart from the 1887 order issued by the British colonizers, there is no other official record of this agency with regards to its legal jurisdiction, its operations, or scope of power.
Another interesting observation points out that when India was celebrating its 65th independence anniversary, the IB proudly celebrated its 125th anniversary, thus taking pride in its colonial roots and the colonial tradition of repressing anti-colonial activities. The essence of this agency holds on to the same beliefs laid down by their British founders--to dominate and control the people subjugated to the Indian state’s power. This ethos is fundamentally contradictory to any sense or value of freedom in the world’s largest democracy (as India claims it to be).
These agencies have been fundamentally opposed to personal liberties and freedom since their inception although they have been given the extraordinary powers to interfere in the private lives of the people without any systems of accountability in place. Their unreliable, dubious, and repressive nature is a foregone conclusion more than a live question today. The tragedy is that the courts, which themselves are grappling with the question of the constitutional legitimacy of IB, continue to use and rely upon information presented by the agency. From their reports on political opponents of the ruling class to the illegal surveillance of the general public, all of these nefarious activities have been accepted as evidence in Indian courts--raising another host of questions that we cannot get into in this article.
Ultimately, it is pertinent to note that when other entities, which have a legal standing and constitutional legitimacy, such as various police bodies, CBI, ED etc. have reportedly been unleashing inhumane torture, arbitrary surveillance and interference in personal lives, then we could not even imagine up to what extent the IB could go to, with all its unchecked powers, to possibly destroy lives of ordinary citizens of India.
The ability of people to organize politically and voice dissent freely is so constricted and threatened by such unscrupulous agencies and their unchecked powers, that the agencies have consistently illustrated that they serve the ruling elite rather than public interest as one senior journalists summarizes it “IB ‘s mandate has always been to protect India’s rulers from Indians”. Considering it's clearly defined historical purpose, and its ongoing functioning, is it not time for us to acknowledge the IB’s role as a propaganda tool--similar to the corporate media--rather than a source of reliable information and intelligence?
Originally published in English on sikhsiyasat.info