Closely following the career of my brother, B. Raman, “analyst and commentator extraordinaire”, as Siddharth Varadarajan described him in his tweet, I knew the impressive niche he had carved out for himself in the field of security, intelligence and strategic analysis and the tremendous influence he had begun to wield among his vast circle of admirers both for his acumen and audacity. But, truth to tell, even I was unprepared for such a flood of expressions of grief and flow of tributes from far and near on his passing.
When he was fighting for his life in the hospital, President Pranab Mukherjee wrote to me a gracious personal letter in which he said he was “saddened to learn” that Raman was not keeping well, and called him “one of the few surviving officers” who had been witness to the creation of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). He paid tribute to Raman’s “sharp mind and critical analytical powers (which have) always been great asset to the nation, especially the community which specialises in strategic matters”.
Narendra Modi too had his concern and best wishes for recovery conveyed to Raman, offering to arrange for his best treatment at the State Government’s expense. This is a remarkable display of the esteem in which he was held because Modi had figured in some of Raman’s frank and critical views on some of his policies and approaches.
On coming to know of Raman’s death, Nicholas Manring, Acting US Consul General in Chennai, was one of the first to convey the entire Consulate General’s “deepest condolences” and “heartfelt sympathies”, and praised him as “an important member of Chennai’s strategic affairs community” who “impressed numerous Foreign Service Officers over the years with his breadth and depth of knowledge and his willingness to engage in thought-provoking discussions”. Manring held Raman’s demise to be “a great loss to the think-tank community in India and to his friends in the diplomatic community”.
MOST NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENT
The print and electronic media in India, and the tweets and blogs of all those who had been keenly following his views, are overflowing with similar sentiments. Raman, to my mind, was among the first to have mastered the great scope and sweep of tweets and blogs for forging enormous networks of audiences in a given field of interest. That he could make them instruments in campaigning for a point of view or cause and in creating instant and widespread public awareness is perhaps his most notable achievement. Within a very short time, he built up a huge following and with each of his close and constant aficionados avidly reproducing his stand through their own tweets and blogs, he was able to reach out to, and make an impact on, netizens on a global scale.
For instance, one of his tweets asking for Narendra Modi being given a chance to become Prime Minister created a firestorm on the Internet for days. He not only had clearcut opinions on issues, however complicated, but had the ability to make it the centre-piece of spirited advocacy by all the means of communication at his disposal.
For all his occasionally frontal and unsparing critiques of persons and policies, Raman was universally held to be a professional to his fingertips, with no personal axe to grind. That was why both the National Democratic Alliance and United Progressive Alliance governments readily made him a member of various bodies such as the National Security Advisory Board, the Kargil Inquiry Committee and the Naresh Chandra Committee on redesigning the security architecture.
Professional he was, masterly in marshalling facts and arguments, impeccable in distilling the essence to the last nuance of an event or an issue, and forceful in articulation often characterised by words tumbling out at a fast and furious rate, but he was also too pungent and too consumed by likes and dislikes in respect of official and non-official actors in diplomacy, governance and politics. He himself admits to one such situation when, having kept a poker face for much of his period in service, on reaching home on the day of retirement, he loudly shouted “bastards”, a reference to the US State Department officialdom.
Having myself been at one time part of the security and intelligence community, and having had a hand in the drafting of the original paper for the creation of RAW and the Border Security Force (BSF), I used to caution Raman during our conversations to temper his judgments in the interests of greater credibility and acceptance.
My “chiding” of Raman to which Swati Parashar refers in her feelingly written tribute to his memory, was perhaps one such occasion.
Subjects falling within the domains of security and intelligence are necessarily intricate and complex, and their treatment will understandably tend to be erudite. This is why the political class — even informed but lay readers — for no fault of theirs, may not be quick to grasp the implications.
If they have to be fully involved in decision-making, a commentator should not just stop with expounding the various dimensions and ramifications of issues, but also give in intelligible terms his recommendations for possible courses of action to be adopted by state actors. I was happy to find Raman appreciating my advice and giving concrete solutions in his later writings,
I never thought I would be one day writing about his passing. He was always so full of life, so full of ideas on what was his life blood: security, intelligence and the fight against terrorism.
All his waking hours he was holding on to his iPad, poring over the day’s national and international news, commentaries and columns, tweeting, blogging and churning out essay after essay of his own, two or three per day sometimes, on what he found to be right or wrong with happenings around the world.
Even when he had slipped in his last days into a delirious state (I later learnt from a study of write-ups on Web sites that this was one of the pointers to the inevitable hour with regard to terminally ill cancer patients), his mutterings were all about measures to banish the scourge of terrorism from the face of the earth and ways of reordering political and strategic relations among the existing and emerging global powers.
He was the last of four siblings, including myself and two sisters, but, true to his penchant, has forged ahead, leaving the three of us behind to mourn his loss.