Double Agent

How a CIA man helped the RSS come out of Godse’s shadow

When the US researcher JA Curran’s “Militant Hinduism in Indian Politics: A Study of the RSS,” was published, no one seemed to suspect that he was working at the behest of the US Central Intelligence Agency. The first page of the book has a portrait of MS Golwalkar.
29 February, 2024

JUST BEFORE the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s links with Nathuram Godse could become an issue in the first Indian general election, the US researcher JA Curran wrote an account of the organisation that de-hyphenated it from the assassin of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. In his 1951 book, Militant Hinduism in Indian Politics: A Study of the RSS, Curran described the rise of the organisation. He proclaimed that Godse had stayed in the RSS only for a brief period, during the early 1930s, and had left it more than a decade before he killed Gandhi, on 30 January 1948. On the whole, the book succeeded in depicting Godse in exactly the manner the Sangh desired.

The RSS sarsanghchalak—supreme leader—MS Golwalkar and his associates provided unusual access to Curran as he researched in India, between 1949 and 1951, a privilege the Sangh hardly ever extended to other researchers. “The gratitude the author owes to RSS members for their assistance in his research cannot be exaggerated,” Curran noted in the preface of his book. From Golwalkar to the organisation’s newest recruits, everyone constantly gave him opportunities to “ask numerous questions about plans and activities, as well as observe the Sangh’s operation.” His account was based on a year and a half of “frequent association” with the organisation.

At the time of its publication, the book seemed to be an authentic study of the RSS and its author a serious researcher. No one seemed to suspect that Curran was working at the behest of the US Central Intelligence Agency. Nor could anyone outside the RSS realise that his work quietly laid down the foundation for some crucial myths that would help the Hindutva outfit cover its tracks.

The silence was interrupted, fifteen years later, when another CIA operative, John D Smith, defected to the Soviet Union after working in the US embassy in India during the 1950s and early 1960s. On 25 October 1967, the Times of India reported that Smith told the Soviet newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta that he had been recruited by the CIA. Curran’s name figured as an important CIA man in India. Smith asserted that his wife, Mary, herself a CIA agent, worked directly under Curran. Smith’s revelations were reproduced by the Communist Party of India, two months later, in the form of a booklet titled “I was a CIA Agent in India.” According to a secret CIA memo, dated 2 January 1968, the agency had been advised that “there is nothing in this booklet which did not appear in the original Soviet articles or on the Soviet radio.”