Friday, June 21, 2013

Remembering B Raman - India's Strategic Thinker

Remembering B Raman - India's Strategic Thinker 
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Writing obituaries is not my forte but then there are people who leave behind a lasting impression in my life, the call of the conscious is to pay tributes.

I recall B. Raman, who passed away on 16 June 2013 as one of India’s finest strategic thinker  whom I have interacted for past several years. Raman died in after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 77.

B. Raman, was an Additional Secretary of the Cabinet Secretariat of the Government of India and one-time head of the counter-terrorism division of India's external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

As a former intelligence official, B Raman regularly wrote about security, counter-terrorism and military issues regarding India and South Asia. Raman was the author of a memoir he wrote of his days in the R&AW titled "Kaoboys of R&AW - Down Memory Lane".

Words are many to describe him as stream of memory jogs on to follow him. My first encounter with him was at the University of Madras, maybe a decade ago where he was speaking on terrorism. The local academics looked pygmy in front of him. The range and depth of information on terrorism astonished me. Such information can only be at the tips of those who may have handled it at personal level. He was a walking encyclopaedia on terrorism but had views on almost every strategic issue.

I use to call him for panel discussion at the Sun TV where I worked in English news section as Assistant Editor. In the news room we use to fondly call him Bomber Ramam- B - for Bomber! I came to know the abbreviation of his name B only after media reported his death.  

My interaction with him grew at ORF, Chennai where I was regular at Saturday interaction. He headed ORF, Chennai as its distinguished fellow. During the sessions he chaired he always gave me the opportunity to speak and acknowledged me by few flattering words. His comments during the discussion carried great punch.

He was an American critique and I remember the talk by Christina Fair, the American strategic specialist from RAND. B. Raman lampooned the American foreign policy in Afghanistan.

B. Raman uses to live near my house and sometimes I encounte
red him during evening walks. He used to wave his hand and we exchanged pleasantries. I have visited his house several times and was astonished by the simplicity of his life. We use talk about several things. He told me about the conversation he had with Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street journalist.  We talked about Benazir first assassination attempt in Karachi. We talked about OSAMA!

Later I did some television interview with him regarding developments in Burma for Mizzima TV, and once took him to Marina. That day I spent about half a day on the beach. I remember he telling me seeing Gandhiji statue at Marina that he is totally misfit for the modern India. I also remember telling me that he was an undergraduate student there and waved at his college. He also showed me the place near swimming pool where he uses to buy ice creams!

B Raman had recommended my name as speaker on Burma for a Bangalore based think tank. I came to know about this only from the organizers of the seminar on Myanmar.

I use to visit Raman’s house, a housing board flat in KK Nagar. I realized he lived alone. He had a very simple life style. I could sense that most of the time, he spent on the computer, the toy he was fond of playing with. And that’s how I could make out the reason why he was a prolific writer.

If not writing he was attending seminars. He used to be a globe trotter for seminar and conferences. In March 2012, I met him at a conference in Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi.  We exchanged a few words at personal level and I realized he was pleased seeing me.

There are so many encounters with him that comes recalling as his face flashes in the memory lane. One day I met him in the Boat club, Madras, and he asked me am I member there.  I told him its rich man’s place, I am only a pedestrian; to this his chuckled face is still fresh to me.

He had a very sharp mind and has produced a considerable body of work on strategic issues. Having been one of the few surviving officers who were a witness to the creation of R&AW during 1968 by RN Kao, his analysis on Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and China have been an asset to the Intelligence community.

I may like to make an appeal to all his well-wishers to compile his work and have it archived. It can be helpful for researchers on strategic issues. I think this would be best way to keep him alive for eternity.

It’s hard to say goodbye to him, his memories are still so fresh in my mind. May Hanumanji take care of him well in his heavenly abode!

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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