B. Raman: Realpolitik in the Service of India

Indian post near Chinese border, http://www.flickr.com/photos/ahinsajain/3933851341/sizes/m/in/photolist

June 16, 2013: The news that Indian political and security analyst B. Raman had succumbed to his years-long battle with cancer came as a jolt on a quiet Sunday afternoon. We were among his many avid readers, and had last seen him early in 2012, over a cup of tea and his usual acerbic conversation, in Chennai. He was characteristically harsh in his judgments of both the U.S. and Indian governments over the Maldives, the topic of the hour. And, equally characteristically, he was unwavering in his conviction that India needed to define and pursue its interests – realistically and, if necessary, cold-bloodedly. His firm views, which he set out in briskly drafted, numbered paragraphs that reflected his long career in government, were always insightful and often unorthodox. We often disagreed, but he was always worth reading.

We first came to admire Raman’s work on China, a subject that was at the heart of his career as an intelligence officer. He was hand picked by R. N. Kao, the founder of India’s Research and Analysis Wing – or, as he liked to call them, the Kao-boys – to be one of the founders of the organization. He continued to the end to follow closely developments in Pakistan and China.

On Pakistan, he had a very dark view. A few days after the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, he published a blog arguing that India should exact from Pakistan the maximum pain short of war: “A divided Pakistan, a bleeding Pakistan, a Pakistan ever on the verge of collapse without actually collapsing—-that should be our objective till it stops using terrorism against India.”

Raman, like other strategic analysts, saw China as India’s major strategic challenge. His last blog before his death, on May 14, dealt with the Chinese incursions into the Daulat Beg Oldi area, and complained that some of the measures India had taken to tamp down the crisis before the Chinese Prime Minister arrived in Delhi had been careless with India’s interests. Raman, as always, urged vigilance and persistence.

Raman’s view of the United States depended entirely on the issue and on the circumstances. During his government career, he had been involved in clandestine dealings with a number of countries, including the United States, and was willing to talk about them privately after he left office. As a believer in realistic policies, he sought the maximum benefit to India from its improved ties with Washington. But he was deeply mistrustful of traditional U.S. links to Pakistan, which he believed blinded Americans to Pakistan’s involvement with terrorism. He lived to see India-U.S. cooperation in this area improve dramatically; for Raman, however, the watchword was always “Show me.”

On a more personal level, it was Raman’s courage that most impressed us. He was diagnosed with cancer several years before it took his life. Far from retreating into a medical bubble, he wrote candidly about his medical situation. He decided not to undergo some of the standard medical treatments available to him. The disability and weakness they would cause were, in his view, not worth the cost: Raman wanted to live life to the fullest. He did that, sharing his views and sharpening up our thinking until his final days. His Cartesian Twitter bio was a fitting epitaph: “Je pense, donc je suis. I think, so I am. Those who think exist.”

Teresita and Howard Schaffer


  1. James Clad says:

    A thoughtful and moving tribute to someone with whose views I didnt always agree, but whose ruthless realism – especially about China and Pakistan – both instructed and forewarned. He was quite a figure, and made a mark.

  2. Stephen Cohen says:

    A fine tribute to one of India’s most distinguished civil servants. B. Raman was the ultimate realist, I learned from him even when in disagreement.


  3. Rajiv says:

    Nice to read the comments from Teresita and Howard Schaffer. i too thought that mr Raman was slow to see the small changes that US policy towards Pakistan has undergone in last 10 years. However I agree with Mr Raman that US had played a major role in Pkaistan’s development as a militaristic state, violently and pathologically hateful towards India and financed by US.

Leave a Reply