From a reading of Escape to Nowhere, certainly there seems to have been enough grounds to nail Rabinder Singh and later jail him. The book suggests that shortly after he was interdicted from leaving office with his personal files, Rabinder’s character Ravi Mohan had been reduced to a quivering, paranoid jelly; I may be wrong here but my feeling is had he been arrested he would have sung beautifully. By letting him get away, many questions remain unanswered. Among them: Was there a larger network that Rabinder helped build?
Rabinder was an important man as far as the CIA was concerned; otherwise, both he and his wife wouldn’t have been spirited away on American passports. By passing on over 23,000 pages of intelligence and assessments, Rabinder provided the CIA with a pretty good, almost 360 degree view on exactly what kind of analyses was daily being done in RAW at the lower and middle levels, warts and all. Rabinder interacted with a range of officers who kept him supplied with intelligence. Were they doing it unwittingly? In one or two instances, there are suggestions of Rabinder dangling a hook to potential collaborators. Escape to Nowhere makes it clear how like a child’s play it was for Rabinder to develop contacts, build on them and pilfer intelligence. Rabinder threw lavish parties, entertained regularly, developed friendships and sensitive contacts in the army, the national security council secretariat and many other institutions. Only an interrogation and a full-fledged investigation could have revealed if Rabinder had been successful in turning colleagues for the CIA or if there was a network and if so, how extensive it was.
A critical part of Rabinder’s escape saga played out in the interregnum between the NDA government’s electoral ouster and the coming in of the UPA government. Typically, periods of such transitions tend to be characterised by some amount of bureaucratic paralysis. After the BJP’s failure to project ‘India Shining!’ in the 2004 elections, the UPA came in. Brajesh Mishra was replaced by J N Dixit as the national security adviser. Dixit did not enquire into the disappearance of Rabinder. It fell upon M K Narayanan to do so. The ‘enquiry’ seems to have begun sometime July that year. In retrospect, it would be bit of a misnomer to call it an enquiry. Amar Bhushan appears not to have attended the so-called enquiry. From all available indications, neither did Narayanan seem to have insisted on his presence. Curious, considering that Bhushan, being the principal investigator in the operation concerning Rabinder, had a panoramic view over the investigation, going by the account in the book Escape to Nowhere. No one understood the problem better than Bhushan. He was the repository of all details of the operation concerning Rabinder; he has had enough recall to write a fascinating book seven years after the escape. The book makes it clear that he is not short of views on what exactly ails RAW as well.
Narayanan conducted three or four hearings at RAW headquarters where they had begun transcribing some of the surveillance tapes. Narayanan went over some. There were over three months worth of surveillance, both audio and video. How much could Narayanan painstakingly go through in three or four sittings, each of which lasted two hours at the most? By September, the matter was closed. RAW never got to know what that had been all about. Since nothing came of it, everybody stood absolved.