By Maloy Dhar
The Indian Intelligence Bureau, the oldest surviving intelligence agency of the world, evolved from a dire need of the British Raj. Soon after its victory over the rebellious Indian forces in 1857, the British government felt the need for organising a strong military and civil intelligence outfit to effectively suppress the Muslim and Hindu rulers. Besides it had to consolidate and expand its territories; ensure law and order in the directly controlled areas; maintain vigil on the territories ruled by native princes and to gather intelligence about friendly and hostile preparations of regimes in China, Afghanistan and the expanding empire of Russia. Moreover, the defeat of the Mughals had also led to political turmoil in other parts of the Muslim world in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia.
There is a popular belief amongst the intelligence community that the Intelligence Bureau was conceived and set up as the `Central Special Branch` by an order of the Secretary of State for India in London, on December 23, 1887. A few others believe that the first intelligence outfit in India was started in 1885 when Major General Sir Charles Metcalfe MacGregor was appointed Quartermaster General and head of the Intelligence Department of the Indian Army.
The claim made by certain quarters in the intelligence fraternity that the Intelligence Bureau should trace its origins to the `Anti-Thuggee and Dacoity Department` since its inception in 1835, is also not accurate.
The British Thuggee Act that dates back to 1828 came into being largely due to the efforts of Lord William Bentinck, Governor General of India, who had started an extensive campaign involving profiling, intelligence gathering, and executions of the Thuggee groups. How this group was formed is an interesting story. Informants were recruited from captured thugs who were then offered protection on the condition that they told everything they knew. By the 1870`s, the Thuggee cult was extinct, but the concept of `criminal tribes` and `criminal castes` is still in the mindset of India.
A police organisation known as the `Thuggee and Dacoity Department` was established within the Government of India, with Colonel William Sleeman as superintendent of the department in 1835. This remained in existence till 1904 when it was replaced by the Central Criminal Intelligence Department. It would, therefore, be seen that the Intelligence Bureau had only partially inherited its origins to the Thuggee and Dacoity Department and to the `Central Special Branch` established in London in December 1887. The MI unit started in 1885 had evolved into a separate Military Intelligence outfit.
Using thugs to gather intelligence was not a new phenomenon though. Even Ziauddin Barni`s History of Firoz Shah (written about 1356) had mentioned the creation of a special force in Delhi that had rounded up over 200 Thuggees who were banished to the political kalapani of Lakhnauti (Laxmanabati-Gaur) in modern Bengal. Though the Emperor had not christened his special force as a Thuggee Department, nonetheless, he used more or less the same tactics as the British did centuries later.
Images Courtesy: PIB
Image: During the British Raj, thugs were recruited as intelligence informants in return for protection, on the condition that they told everything they knew