National Interest: The ISRO Spy Case Test

Truth must be the first imperative no matter what the herd says

This week saw the return of a voice, and face, from a distant past in our headlines: former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist S. Nambi Narayanan. A brilliant rocket scientist, he not only lost his career, but also a decade of his life, his meagre savings, honour, academic work and self-esteem, through a witch-hunt in which his fellow ISRO scientist D. Sasikumaran, senior IPS officer Raman Srivastava, two Maldivian women, Mariam Rasheeda and Fauzia Hassan, and many others were also similarly trapped in 1994. This was called the ISRO spy case. The Kerala press picked it up first, the opposition Left Front made it a cause celebre, using it to target the then incumbent chief minister, UDF's K. Karunakaran. He had to resign under pressure. Then it caught the imagination of the national media, and also some but truth to tell, only some of the chronic conspiracy theorists in the RSS-BJP. The larger narrative was expanded to take in, predictably for those days, Prabhakara Rao, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao's son. For details of the story, you have to do some archival reading. But the story, basically, was that these two Maldivian women were some kind of a Mata Hari duo, renegades from their country's secret service, who were ultimately working for the Pakistani ISI, Russian scientific smuggling syndicates, international armament mafias, and probably every villain in the world including Mogambo and Shakal or any other avatar of Amrish Puri and Ajit. Through a complex web of subterfuge, accomplices, bribery, sexual favours and cash, they built a network of "traitors" that included scientists, top policemen, businessmen and even Rao's son to steal the most sensitive secrets from ISRO, particularly its cryogenic engine plans and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) projects.

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