When did ‘liaison work’ evolve into espionage, both commercial as well as anti-national?
The reasons and timelines were multiple, but if one had to put markers along this path of liaison becoming an anti-National episode in India, an important one would probably have to do with the Imperial Tobacco / BAT / India Tobacco episode as well as its linkages to "Operation Berkshire" to promote the increase in usage of tobacco. Before that it would also be about the way Nestle and other milk producing countries tried their level best variously with "Operation Flood".
These are two I know about personally also, in addition to documented records, but there were many more. The way in which the Bengal famine was handled to benefit a few specific Calcutta families and the way steel scrap post World War-II was handled to benefit a few specific Punjab origin families in Calcutta, are just two. However, commercial espionage becoming a major anti-National force really came into its own when one fine day the developed world woke up to realise two things about India -
1) A totally unplanned and uncontrolled information technology boom despite bad communication infrastructure, born out of totally organic grey-market assembled computers and pirated software from all over the world, but not including the global market leaders in hardware and software.
2) A resultant quantum leap in the basics of information available and human intelligence growing in India, which was in projections going to be a major threat to a globally ageing population, because smart youngsters were emerging from India, with English language skillsets to boot.
I have had access to deep reportage and analysis on both the subjects, to the extent that research on food and eating habits in India linked to higher intelligence were deep analysed. Spices and herbs being identified as one reason, and cooking methods being identified as another, with lentils in diet considered to be a major reason for the rapid growth in available intelligence in India. Obviously, this scared "them".
We still continue to pretend we are surprised, when we read in a Western medical journal that something like "heeng" is good for the brains, or walnuts work even better. However, all this had been deeply researched as the developed countries worked hard on trying to figure out how they were punching out a larger percentile of obviously not so smart people.
In an aside, it needed a few wars all over the world for the Western World to get rid of many of the dumb and aggressive genes, but they still had to slow down the rapid growth of smarter people in India. Ergo, flood India with junk food and cancer colas, designed to get young Indians to follow the same path that the West followed a few decades ago.
If this sounds far-fetched, then please compare this to the way the Western World tried to drown China in opium a few centuries ago, grown and shipped mainly from India, soon after the Chinese started showing the world that they were inventing everything. For example, they invented and started using the moving type printing press before anybody else. And you get an idea of how the developed countries think when they see competition. Up the rivers, they come with their gunboats and shouts of "free trade free trade".
Again, I know because I also worked for one of the biggest and best in the business of lobbying as well as perception management, a polite word for influencing the way governments think and act and make policy. Free trade, it was made clear, was only one-way. And to achieve that, they had to not just know what was going on, but also influence what they wanted to happen.
Commercial espionage at this juncture, say during end '80s through mid '90s, was restricted largely to large Indian companies vying with each other-where results were often decided by political influence rather than commercial acumen or intelligence. Therefore, basis all the games rendered until then, around end '90s onwards, the arrival of large foreign companies and liberalisation in India put a new spin to the game.
The stakes went up, that was one aspect, and so did huge imports of almost everything. Simultaneously, from being a nominal exporter of value-added products and small shiploads of minerals and ores, the famous cobblers and tailors quote from one of country's biggest industrial houses then refers, India suddenly became an exporter of mineral and ores by huge shiploads. Suddenly, it was no longer just liaison but also communication skills, both for receiving inputs and being able to render them coherently – along with the ability to acquire the said information before others too, that became imperative.
The big movers and shakers of the world's corporate intelligence providers had arrived in India. All they needed now was willing and able collaborators in India. Journalists were an obvious perfect match.
Both sides of the coin, media on one side and commercial intelligence on the other, had arrived in India. All was fair in business, and the country, it was said, could take the hindmost.
(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves.