27 January, 2021

A Coven Of Spooks

Our security agencies need reform, and from the ground up

A Coven Of Spooks

Espionage in India has a long pedigree. Rigvedic hymns invoke Agni as the deceiver of foes, with spies detecting and catching criminals. Kautilya classified nine different types of spies—a fraudulent disciple (kapatikachhatra), a recluse (udasthita), a householder (gri­ha­paitika), a merchant (vaidehaka), an ascetic (tapasa), a colleague (satri), a firebrand (tikshna), a poisoner (rasada) and a mendicant woman (bhikshuki). Five of these (sanstha) were to be deployed for internal intelligence, collecting intelligence in sleeper capacities. Four of these (sanchaar) would be transitory, deployed for short terms, potentially outside the realm. Female spies were to serve as the coordinating link between the two arms.

European observers were awe-struck by the efficiency of Mughal intelligence (J.J.L. Gommans), with Manucci citing spies as the best means for regulation of the Mughal kingdom. Mir Jumla, the greatest of Mughal generals, was often found “replying...



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