Bengaluru: When a police officer barged into Room 205 of Hotel Samrat in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram on 20 October 1994 and found a diary belonging to Maldives national Mariam Rusheeda, it set off a unique set of developments.
My case will help victims of khaki power: Nambi Narayanan
In what became one of India’s most famous spy stories, the Isro espionage case, led to the sacking of India’s cryogenic project head Nambi Narayanan, who was subsequently booked under the Official Secrets Act. His removal led to delays in India’s space research programmes under Indian Space Research Organisation, besides setting off bitter fights with several countries, including Pakistan, Russia and the US. It also led to the ouster of Kerala chief minister K. Karunakaran and the Congress in the following elections.
Narayanan, along with three other men, was alleged to have smuggled out top secret documents related to India’s ₹ 300-crore cryogenic programme, with the help of two women, who had honey trapped them. However, 20 years later, on 20 October 2014, the Kerala high court observed that the developments were based on a sham case.
Subsequently in 2015, Narayanan moved the Supreme Court to restore his honour and punish those, a nexus of powerful officials, who wrongfully charged him for a case that never was. Narayanan won that battle on Friday. The apex court ordered a high-level probe into the role of Kerala police in “fabricating” the case and arresting and causing “tremendous harassment” and “immeasurable anguish” to Narayanan. The court also awarded him ₹ 50 lakh in compensation.
In an interview, Narayanan comments on how he fought his case and why it mattered to him. Edited excerpts:
What are your thoughts at this moment?
I had demanded two things in the special leave petition. Both were accepted by the Supreme Court. So, I’m happy. I’d be receiving compensation and the Supreme Court has also appointed a committee, for which two members will be nominated by the state and the centre. They will be finding out who all were involved in fabricating the case and implicating me, and how they did it. All of that is going to come out.
You spent most of your savings, time and energy behind this case, despite being absolved of the charges in 2014. Why did this fight matter to you so much?
This is something you have to live through and find out. I can’t explain and you won’t understand. The reason is simple: you are only an onlooker, you are not subjected to what I experienced. Say for example, my wife was going in an autorickshaw to a temple, the driver comes to know that she was the wife of a spy, he stops the vehicle and asks her to get out. She was stranded on the streets, while it was raining. Now, is this normal life?
I was not accused of a small charge. The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), after investigation, said it was a false case. Then the government of Kerala wanted to reinvestigate the case. It was quashed by the Supreme Court. Though there was no chargesheet, though there was no trial, the allegation made by them stands as an allegation. The people who fabricated this case kept on telling that the Supreme Court had only examined the technicalities, and it did not go into the merit of the case. Various things were proved by the CBI in its report. In a way they said that the allegation stands. That’s why I made it my duty to prove that it was not so. I was able to bring out the truth only in the present case. Now, it is categorically clear that I was put into trouble unnecessarily. I was maliciously prosecuted. I was tortured. And now, the court has asked action to be taken against them. All those things have now been achieved.
Now that the fight is behind you. What is the biggest takeaway?
I was on one side, power was on the other. Both the state and the central governments were against me. There was politics involved. The man who created the case became the opposition party and the man who reaped benefits became the ruling party. So, I was actually fighting the system. Now you have such a democratic system, any number of times you can keep on postponing a case. For example, in Delhi, I filed the case in 2015. But our system is such that it took three years and 19 adjointments, before we got into the finality.
And even for that finality, I must give credit only to the panel of judges who were sitting there. These are the rare combination of judges who understood the whole thing. Their intelligence, capability, stamina and boldness, helped them understand the complicated matters. How many people are lucky to have such panel of judges? And the judgement is so unique that it is not only going to help me but so many other people. You take it from me, people can’t be arrested just like that from hereon and, if they are arrested, they will have to pay for it, and they won’t be let out just like that. I tell you, I will live for some more time, even after my death, this case will be cited for hundreds of years. This is going to help so many people who are the victims of khaki power. I’m sure, if not the whole elimination, the frequency with which it happens, will come down considerably. Look, somebody makes a case, a false case, throws all his power, political power, official power, everything and then drags and drags and drags, and runs the whole show for 24 years. And then, finally, got into his box. I don’t think anybody else will care to do a similar thing tomorrow.
What would have been the future of Isro if the bluff was called out at the beginning?
Isro is not run by Nambi Narayanan alone. I was one among hundreds of people. Of course, we would have made cryogenics much faster. There would not have been such a delay. Isro is made up of dedicated people, no affiliation to politics, non-corrupt, no-nonsense people are part of it. But the problem is with politicians who want to play their games. They can choose any field, not an organization like Isro, which is the only organization, according to me, which is the pride of every Indian. They have used Isro as a playground to suit their cause. They need not create something, need not contribute to this country, but they can at least not block the development somewhere.
Your future could have been very different? You had a plan to create an aqua-farm post retirement. Do you think you can finally move on to retirement?
I would have got out anyways. My goal was to create the cryogenic and leave it there. I wanted to do something that has nothing to do with Isro. If you do a job for more than 30-40 years it becomes boring. It could be a theme park or as simple as a multi-tier car parking. Now I feel like taking a break. As far as I am concerned, the fight is over, to the extent that I got my relief I had asked for. In the common interest, if somebody wants—social activists and other people—they can carry on the fight. People like you, in the media, in a way, were responsible for creating this mess. Why don’t you do something to clear the mess? In the beginning, the media was the one who fabricated the whole story.
You said you want to take a break. Does that mean you will be taking a new role? There has always been a buzz about you joining politics. Perhaps joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), since both the Left and the Congress governments were responsible for what happened to you. Does a career in politics interest you?
Nothing. I will not be a politician. That’ll be the last thing in my blood. When I said I need a break, I meant I want to get the hell out of here. I am fed up. There is a limit you know. At the age of 77, I don’t think you have to stretch it any further.