One of the major aspects of the I Ramamohan Rao’s life, as a government information officer, is that having pioneered into the field of defence information, he covered the Indian Contingent of United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) in Gaza.
He was involved in dealing with dispatches of the Sino-Indian war (1962) from New Delhi and did a full-fledged coverage of the second and third of India’s three semi-conventional wars, waged by Pakistan (1947-1948, 1965 and 1971).
His stint with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), his working with four Indian prime ministers and as the Principal Information Officer, make his career graph quite unique. Further, a diplomatic assignment of establishing the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Cultural Cooperation (MGCCC) at Trinidad and Tobago and finally his ‘crossing the fence’ to join a major media house only adds to that uniqueness.
Those who persuaded Rao to write this book – his daughter Smita and his son-in-law, Sanjiv Prakash, CEO, ANI – along with others who aided the process, must be thanked. This book has interesting and informative anecdotes covering six decades of Rao’s professional life, which still continues to fill many loopholes in India’s highly eventful post-Independence history.
The Directorate of Public Relations department came into existence in June, 1940. After independence, it became the Directorate of Public Relations of Ministry of Defence-headed by a director-deputed by the Press Information Bureau (PIB).
Having begun his service in 1956, Rao’s first foray into defence was in 1961 as the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Indian contingent, UNEF in Gaza. Returning to New Delhi in 1962, he was in DPR during the Sino-Indian war. Shortly afterwards he was posted to Jammu, where he worked in the Indian Army as an Honorary Captain. He was later promoted to the rank of Honorary Major and appointed as PRO, Army, during the Indo-Pak war in 1971.
Since Independence, it has been clear that a government information officer’s job is not an easy one. The politico-bureaucratic establishment was not too well-disposed towards the armed forces as it failed to appreciate India’s geo-strategic placement and related threats to its security.
Instead of accepting the advice of military commanders on these threats, the Chinese being a classic example, the key political leaders and their bureaucrats, already steeped in ignorance about matters military and treated the military leadership with suspicion.
Perceptions about national security, image projection were blinkered along with lack of transparency supposedly for national security, but very often to hide the government’s weaknesses, flawed decisions or its “political considerations”.
In this morass of skewered civil-military relations and a disastrous deficiency of strategic thought-process, a defence spokesperson, who aimed to deliver, often walked a tightrope.
To the author’s credit, right from his first defence assignment with the UNEF Indian contingent onwards, he performed very well, importantly so in a job where he enjoyed the government, military and media’s confidence. After Rao’s UN assignment, he was offered to join the organisation, which he declined. The pace he set during his tenure, could never be maintained by his successors.
In March this year Mr. Rao was awarded the Dr M V Kamath Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement for his service in the field of journalism . His book should be read by government officers, diplomats, bureaucrats, journalists as well as students.