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Saturday, February 03, 2007

The case of Jaswant Singh and the jasoos (spy)

Jaswant Singh's book 'A Call to Honour' has raked up quite a storm because it claims that there was a mole in Prime Minister Narasimha Rao's government, who had leaked vital information about India's nuclear plans to the US government. The book goes on to say that when Jaswant Singh was a deputy leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha in 1995, a letter was sent to him that was also sent to a US senator - furnishing details about India's intentions to carry out nuclear tests. Predictably, this created a furore, so much so that even the man whose book has already sold 20,000 copies because of this controversy, wishes he had never written the book!

As if to add fuel to fire, in an interview given to CNBC-TV18, Former Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh said, "The government (of the day) was aware because elements of the government leaked the information - the government is not singular." Also in the same interview, he seemed to backtrack on things he had written in his book. He made a clarification that is not there in the book - that he got a note along with the letter in 1995, which contained the mole information and the letter itself was another matter altogether. He seemed to be moving onto more slippery ground than before, and this was proved later, when he couldn't name the mole and this has proved to be embarrasing for the BJP party.

Since his bold revelations, this issue has been a tussle between Singh and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has gone on record saying that "if he has the courage or decency, he should name the person that he is accusing of being a mole." On his part, Jaswant Singh says he has sent word to the Prime Minister and his private secretary but hasn't heard from them and when he does, he will give them all the information he has got. He also adds that he hadn't revealed this information earlier because with the Second Pokhran test conducted in 1998, the purpose had been served.

He further explained, "Those were the years that dealt with CTBT. There were countries that were already testing weapons and the idea was to thwart India's CTBT programme and in this fashion I would actually be encouraging the discouragement of India's programme plus those who were responsible for decision-making were no longer in office."

Later in the week, Jaswant Singh told the members of Parliament that the letter had been sent to Harry Barnes who was the US ambassador to India between 1981-1985 but was never a Senator and anyway in 1995, when the letter was written, Harry Barnes was working with the Carter Centre. Former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, Arun Bhagat says because of this dilly dallying, the letter has lost credibility because the letter has not come from a serving diplomat but from an official who worked for a think-tank, which makes the authenticity of the document questionable. Jaswant Singh, in his defense, says he "obfuscated" the identity of the person to whom the letter was sent "to protect the identity of the Indian official." In the same breath, Singh had also said he did not know who the official was - so essentially, he was trying to protect the identity of someone, whom he didn't know to begin with!

As if these twists and turns were not enough, Jaswant Singh later told Parliament that the letter was written by a member of the Rockefeller Foundation, Thomas W. Graham. Former foreign secretary and ambassador to the United States, Lalit Mansingh said, "I find the letter credible but obviously when the content is of such a highly sensitive nature, it's likely that the person who provided the information will like to conceal the identities and the person who received the information would have an equal interest in not revealing the sources."

Former Cabinet Secretary, Surendra Singh also feels that from November 1995 to May 1996, when the Narasimha government finished its term - Jaswant Singh had ample time to reveal this information. So, was there more damage done because Jaswant Singh chose not to bring this information to anyone's notice then? Did he end up protecting the diplomat as well as the mole - however unintentionally? Mansingh explained, "It's not a case of high level espionage but high level diplomacy. It is customary for people in high positions to have discussions with foreign representatives. Informally, soundings are made but I'm not sure if this particularly gentleman did not have the Prime Minister's authorisation."

Bhagat suggests that Jaswant Singh may also have been naive and must have not understood the repercussions of this issue back then and also he certainly did not have expect such intense scrutiny and grilling, when he finally revealed the information, which is why he doesn't seem to have many credible explanations!

Is it any reason why this case has begun to be called 'Jaswant Singh and the Jasoos'! But as a final word, Surendra Singh said that Jaswant Singh should have kept the government informed, so any action against the foreign diplomat could have been taken. Who knows, maybe the spy could have been smoked out as well.

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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