special to the
Reveal how India helped create Bangladesh
Unravel Delhi’s troubled relationship with US
New Delhi, June 22
Until today, not much was known about Kao, except that he was passionate about Alsatian dogs, had an obsessive compulsive disorder and was admired by his counterparts in the West, who praised him for his quick mind and sartorial elegance. Before Kao died some 12 years ago, he dictated his memoirs to a devoted secretary, but left strict instructions that they were only to be released in stages — 10, 20 and 30 years — including how India helped create Bangladesh in 1971, how India took over Sikkim and detailed comments about New Delhi’s often troubled relationship with Washington.
Some of the interesting insights about how Kao helped build the agency, best known to Indians as the Research Analysis Wing (RAW), will not become available until 2032. For, the present researchers will have to be content with the two files that have become available for the public to examine.
Kao was known in his life time as one of the “char piyaras” of Indira Gandhi, along with PN Haksar (Principal Secretary), TN Kaul (Foreign Secretary) and RK Dhavan (Private Secretary). His files are listed alongside letters and documents from the private collection of Haksar.
So are documents linked to such exotic subjects as the Municipal Mazdoor Union, Bombay, 1957-86, the Pataudi State Praja Mandal and the Punjab Conspiracy Case Proceedings (1930-33). Kao reveals in his memoirs that he was born in the city of Benares in 1918 and was the son of a Deputy Collector, who died prematurely when he was only five years old.
The family then moved between Benares, Baroda and Mumbai until Kao was admitted to read law at Allahabad University in the late 1930s. He took the exam for the Indian Police Service in 1939 and was admitted to the Police Training College, Moradabad, in 1940 where he had his first close contact with white Britishers who appeared to him as semi-literate, crude, rough.”
Later in his memoirs, he comments on how in India “the British deliberately adopted a stance of racial superiority and arrogance, which was highly irritating and provoking.”
Eight years after Independence, Kao, by then a senior police officer, was asked by Nehru to investigate the sabotage of Air India’s ‘Kashmir Princess’, which was carrying a Chinese delegation from Hong Kong to Bandung Conference of the Non-Aligned countries in April 1955 when it crashed off the Indonesian coast, killing all eleven passengers, most of them Chinese. Only three members of the Indian crew survived.
The delegation was meant to include Chinese Premier Zhou EnLai, but it is said he got the wind of the plot and changed his travel plans at the last minute, travelling instead to Bandung via Rangoon.
In his lengthy investigations carried out at Nehru’s request, Kao spent months travelling between Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong and China during which he had several one-to-one meetings with Zhou, including one that lasted for more than two hours.
He also reveals how he liaised with a team of three Chinese officials, including Hsiung Hsiang Hui, who later became China’s Chargé d'affaires in London during Cultural Revolution. Kao further discloses how he functioned as the link between the colonial government in Hong Kong – which was carrying out its own investigation into the aircraft’s sabotage – and the communist government in mainland China.
Kao recalls he was told by his Chinese Police colleagues that the bomb had been placed in the Kashmir Princess’ hold by a Taiwanese agent, Chou Chu, who was part of the ground maintenance crew of the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company. He agreed to place a time bomb in the hold of the Kashmir Princess in exchange for the promise of a substantial reward of 6,00,000 Hong Kong dollars.
The security contacts that Kao established at the time with British and Chinese security officials – as well as others – were valuable to him 22 years later when he set up RAW.
From the spymaster’s diary