One of the major aspects of the author’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, was involved in dealing with dispatches of the Sino- Indian war (1962) from New Delhi, did full-fledged coverage of the second and third of India’s three semi-conventional wars waged by Pakistan (1947-48, 1965 and 1971- all in which Pakistan inducted armed tribals) and about two decades later, the fourth-Pakistan’s proxy asymmetric war by terrorismwhich continues unabated till date. This apart, his stint with the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), his working with four of India’s prime ministers as the Principal Information Officer and post-retirement tenures as advisor to Jammu and Kashmir and the defence ministry make his career graph quite unique. Further, a diplomatic assignment of establishing the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Cultural Cooperation at Trinidad and Tobago and finally his “crossing the fence” to join a major media house only add to that uniqueness. The book is hence rightly titled CONFLICT COMMUNICATION: CHRONICLES OF A COMMUNICATOR and makes for fascinating reading, filled as it is with interesting and informative anecdotes covering six decades of Mr. Rao’s professional life. It joins many dots and dashes of India’s highly eventful post- Independence history, much of which still remains not fully disclosed.Those who persuaded Mr I. Ramamohan Rao to write this book-his daughter Smita and his son-in-law, Sanjiv Prakash, CEO, Asia News International (ANI), and others who aided the process must hence be thanked.
Since Independence it emerged that while a government information officer’s job is not an easy one, a government defence information officer’s is fraught with many issues and problems. The politicobureaucratic establishment, to put it mildly, was not too well-disposed towards the armed forces. 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 one being a classic example-the key political leaders and their bureaucrats, already steeped in ignorance about matters military, treated the military leadership with suspicion, while creating and spreading a phobia about military coups/takeovers, that too about the only armed forces in the entire subcontinent, which obeyed the elected government’s orders-even some mindless/stupid ones. 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/policy or its “political considerations”. So, in this morass of skewered civil-military relations, 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 in such a job enjoying the confidence of the government, the military and the media. As late as 1975, the government finally got down to inducting armed forces officers into DPR as PROs. The first of them, Col P.N. Khera, VSM (who served as PRO, Army and then Joint Director in DPR, MoD for seventeen years) recalls that on joining in 1975, he looked forward to meeting Mr. Rao , as he had heard high praise of him from many quarters. After the author’s UN assignment, he was offered to join the organisation, but declined. Another officer mentioned in the book, honorary Colonel V. Longer, of the information service, who had been Joint Director in DPR, got posted to R&AW as head of its information wing and may have been instrumental in Mr. Rao also following him there and becoming a “Kaoboy” (after R.N. Kao, its founder). This book should be read by politicians, government information officers,diplomats, bureaucrats, armed forces officers and journalists as well as students studying political science and international affairs.