I was working for Bombay [Dear MNS, please note: It was Bombay then, and anyway I am no Karan Johar] tabloid Mid-Day when my editor called me to his workspace and told me of Dr Buddhikota Subbarao. He was jailed as a spy, my editor told me while asking me to interview the man, and has been behind bars for over five years.

I went to Subbarao’s Vashi home, early in the morning two days after his release, with a vague idea of the kind of person I’d encounter – a mental image derived from considerable immersion in the works of John le Carre and others.

I expected security, paranoia and, worst case, having to tell my editor I couldn’t get the interview. What I found was a ‘row house’ like any other on that street. There were no guards, no dogs or other obstacles to journalistic endeavor – so I knocked on the door, and a roly-poly man in lungi, frayed shirt and horn-rim spectacles answered my knock.

Subbarao ushered me in, sat me down, brought me a cup of tea and biscuits [both replenished in course of a chat that lasted over an hour], and with no visible hesitation, spoke about his experiences.

That interview, published [with the kind of ‘Exclusive: First ever…’ tag that gave a then newbie journalist a huge high] in a Sunday edition of Mid-Day back in 1991, doesn’t seem to have an online presence – but this story is consonant with the facts as he recounted them then. [Also read this sequel, by Manu Joseph in Outlook nearly a decade later].

Among other things, that encounter forced me to rethink the readiness to accept the “official” view of matters of national security. [And that rethink, in turn, led to the story I filed for Sunday Observer when the national press was all agog over the “ISRO spy scandal” of 1994 – a story that materialized because I went to Thiruvananthapuram unwilling to blindly accept the “official” story [a comment piece I did for Rediff four years later, when the courts ruled on the case].

Back to Subbarao: the jinx on the family continues. There has still been no official resolution of his spy case. And now, a scary sequel: Open magazine reports the case of Subbarao’s son Vikram, now facing the prospect of a 30-year jail term for “threatening” George Bush.

5 thoughts on “Innocent/Guilty

    • I spoke to Nambi Narayan for a follow up once the court freed him. He had sent me a sweet mail when my original article appeared. When I asked about talking to me again, he said he wanted to stay under the radar, had been harassed enough at work, and didn’t want to say something that would set things off all over again 😦

      • Interesting. As an aside, the cop who harassed Nambi Narayan is the same Sreekumar who was involved in a political agenda in the investigation of post-Godhra riots. If we drop all biases and look at Gujarat riots objectively, we will see that the claim of 2000 Muslims and zero Hindus being killed is rubbish.

        Rediff was one of the media outlets that was an exception and did a good job of reporting the truth although some of the PTI reports were absurd. All other media outlets were simply carrying conspiracy theories.

        From a person connected to Congress Party, I have heard that the joke in the party is that “the fools in the media believe anything we feed them as long as we give them their supply of girls and whiskey.” He also had a dim opinion of Indians in general and told me that Indians are so dumb that they have not asked the obvious question on why Manmohan Singh hadn’t arrested Narendra Modi.

        His explanation is that attacking Modi is fair game for campaigning and even Modi takes it well (since it helps him in his state), but that even Congress doesn’t believe the conspiracy theories floating around which is why Modi has not been arrested. In fact, it seems that Modi is on good terms with Congress! So much for his voters supporting him (shows they are gullible too). They are actually surprised at how many people believe such conspiracy theories and look down with contempt at those who fall for them. He specifically mentioned British and American media, Human Rights groups and American professors who masquerade as experts but know nothing!

        In short, we seem to have gullible voters across the political spectrum and gullible media people in India and gullible professors in USA.

        Again, Kudos to Rediff for not falling for conspiracy theories (Remember the allegation of Newton’s Law of Motion? It was Rediff which pointed out that this too was a bogus claim).

  1. Agree. The official version is usually not the truth.

    On the ISRO case, the blokes implicated in that scandal were probably one of the bright dudes who had it in them to go all the way to the top. I hear it was internal politics that resulted in them being pulled into such a sordid affair. The blokes still work at ISRO Trivandrum, albeit with all their enthusiasm drained out, and with ignominy written for the rest of their lives.

    I wonder why they did not sue the organization and the various govt agencies and extract the maximum that they can. but then, money cannot set right whatever they had to face!

    • Besides, as the Subbarao case indicates, getting vindication from the government and the judiciary is a fool’s errand.

      The ironic aspect of the ISRO story for me was that the main accused was in fact a spy — for India. I was told the story of how we acquired the liquid propulsion expertise.

      Apparently a group of Indian scientists went to France on an exchange program. While there, they worked on the liquid propulsion engine. What they did was, each evening they got together in the room of one of their number, and jotted notes on what they had learnt that day. Based on this, they listed what else they needed to know, and then fanned out next day to find answers to those questions.

      They kept this up for three months, and when they were done, they had learnt the entire funda of building a liquid propulsion engine. They then came back to India, produced a blueprint based on their learnings, improved on the French design, added tweaks of their own, and came up with the Indian version.

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