KS Subramanian is perhaps the first victim of Hindutva forces as represented by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). It was on November 6, 1966 when he, then a young Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, was attacked by VHP agitators outside the All India Radio (AIR) building in New Delhi.
The Parishad was taking out a procession towards Parliament demanding a ban on cow slaughter and the 1963-batch Delhi-Himachal Pradesh cadre IPS officer, then SDPO (Sub-Divisional Police Officer), Lajpat Nagar, was deployed on Sansad Marg.
“I was not well trained in handling violence-prone mobs, was unarmed and standing close to the AIR with two other unarmed constables. The VHP mob came marching from Parliament police station. They had lathis and stones. Somebody pointed at me and next, they all started throwing stones at me. One of the stones hit me frontally and I became unconscious. I was unconscious for five hours and taken to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. The doctors had to remove three of my upper teeth and stitch a portion under my right nostril. I had to buy a denture for Rs. 80,” he recollects, showing a scar under his nose and taking out the three-tooth denture he still wears from his mouth. He got a meritorious service medal for the incident 18 years later, in 1984.
The VHP was only two years old then; Subramanian was in his late 20s. He served as SP of Kinnaur, a border district in Himachal Pradesh, for around six months before being recommended for the Intelligence Bureau (IB). In the IB, he was posted in the Bolshevik group and kept a watch on Communist activities in Kerala and would write a weekly report. MK Narayanan, the former National Security Adviser (NSA), was his senior in the IB. Then DIB MML Hooja was considered next to God and Subramanian reminisces how he and his young colleagues would enquire about Hooja from each other, “Kadadul vandu tara? (Is the God in?)” He spent five years on Communist watch. Then, one day, he angered the ‘God’ and Narayanan.
The DIB would take the review meeting of all IB officers weekly. They would all sit at a round table with the director occupying the tallest chair. Every IB officer would brief him about the activities in his domain. Later, Hooja would give his concluding remarks. During his concluding remarks, Subramanian dared to correct Hooja. “This was something on Kerala. I explained the situation. It caused a sensation. I perhaps committed a crime. My contract was not renewed and I was ordered to go to the North-East (Northeastern States were part of the Delhi-HP cadre),” he recalls. Later, Narayanan blocked his return to the Home Ministry by saying he had spent 10 years of his life in ‘creative Marxism’. It was amusing to him as he believed that he was good at ‘anti-Marxism’ of the CIA kind. The former NSA, he believes, also tried unsuccessfully to stop publication of his dissertation on the Communist movement.
Over 40 years later, Subramanian (now 70-plus), a batchmate of former Delhi Police Commissioners Nikhil Kumar and MB Kaushal, still nurses a dislike for the IB, which, he says, lacks ‘internal democracy’ and indulges in ‘mental torture’ of officers. He calls IB an organisation ‘where you cannot speak your mind’. He does not like the police either and is currently trying to persuade the powers-that-be to initiate reforms in police and intelligence. Even during his stint in the IB, he would write for Economic & Political Weekly under the pseudonym ‘MS’. The then editor of EPW Krishna Raj appreciated what Narayanan and the IB could not. Raj wrote to him and asked him to contribute more often.
Ironically, his grounding in the Communist watch has also ensured that he has no love lost for fringe Hindutva forces either. In fact, he considers his involvement in an independent commission on the 2002 riots of Gujarat a professional high point of his life. The commission, constituted by Citizens for Peace & Justice in the same year after the pogrom, also had Justice H Suresh, Justice PB Sawant and Justice Krishna Iyer on board. It produced a three-volume report, which called the riots a crime against humanity and called for accountability at all levels of governance.
Subramanian perceives a case filed at Morris Nagar Police Station against him around the same time as vendetta by the then Home Minister, LK Advani. The FIR alleged that he had shouted at a police officer. It was later quashed in court.
Over 40 years later, Subramanian (now 70-plus), still nurses a dislike for the IB, which, he says, lacks ‘internal democracy’ and indulges in ‘mental torture’ of officers
His transfer to Tripura brought the academic out of the closet. Subramanian got selected for a study at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Shimla. When the then Tripura Chief Secretary refused to sanction his study leave for two years, he put in a single-line resignation letter which brought the former around. During his stay at the Shimla institute, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, the late Ramu (Ramchandra) Gandhi, brother of Gopal Krishna Gandhi, would call Subramanian CBI (M)—Central Bureau of Investigation (Marxist) —due to his inquisitive nature and
communist-related background. After the Shimla sojourn, he returned to Tripura and did 10 postings in two-and-a-half years before joining as DIG-CID in Manipur.
FROM 1979 to 1985, he served as director of the Research and Policy Division in the Home Ministry. In between, he went to Oxford University to do research on violence against Scheduled Castes in India. The stint at Oxford and the work on civil rights in the Home Ministry built up his confidence and made him socially sensitive and pro-poor. He also served as Director General of the State Institute of Public Administration & Rural Development, Tripura, Professor in the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi, and Professor in Jamia Millia Islamia. In between, he was also Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi, and Visiting Fellow at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, UK and Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, UK. He did his doctorate on the Communist movement in Tripura and retired in 1997.
Subramanian has written five books so far and is ready with his sixth. The journey from an IPS officer to an academic has been eventful. Not a mean achievement for a man who at the tender age of 10 years lost seven out of nine family members (five siblings and his mother passed away due to cholera and an elder sister eloped with a lower caste man—he met her 20 years later).
As told to Narendra Kaushik