Where does one begin to chronicle the life and times of a colossus like Rameshwar Nath Kao? Does one begin with his greatest moment of glory in contributing to the liberation of East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh in 1971? Or the fact that he was the founder of one of the world’s best spy agencies, the R&AW? Does one talk about his fiercely private personality? Or his wide-ranging contacts in the secretive world of espionage? For an author like me, it had to be a combination of the personal and the professional to try and capture the essence of Kao, the man, the legend. Somewhere deep in the archives of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) in the heart of New Delhi, lies a set of papers that researchers and historians interested in recording the history of Indian intelligence would love to get their hands on. Alas, only part of those papers—transcripts of tape-recorded dictations left behind by Kao—are currently available. Three crucial files on Bangladesh, the merger of Sikkim and Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination, will not be open until 2025, according to instructions left behind by him, months before he passed away in January 2002.
Since those tapes and papers are not public, this biography of Rameshwar Nath Kao—RNK or ‘Ramji’ to his friends, colleagues and family—had to depend on the personal