New Delhi — The prestigious Gymkhana Club in central New Delhi, where white gloved waiters serve cocktails on the veranda, reportedly was the venue for one of the biggest espionage rings to be uncovered since India gained independence 37 years ago.

According to Indian intelligence sources and western diplomats, an Indian businessman named Kumar Narayan rubbed shoulders with social climbers in the bureaucracies of nearby government ministries, buying those drinks and introducing them to his friends from the tree lined diplomatic and foreign business enclave of Chanakyapuri.

Among Narayan’s guests were said to be well dressed French businessmen, embassy attaches in expensive suits and low level secretaries wearing coarse cotton pajama suits.

Narayan has been charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy under India’s Official Secrets Act. The report with details of the charges was sealed but the magistrate before whom he was arraigned said Saturday that Narayan was accused of passing defense secrets and other classified information relating to national security to foreign contacts.

Narayan, who has been released on bail, would allegedly freely mix with the government clerks and personal assistants, entertaining them with drinks and dinners, paying with bundles of rupees for photocopies of military procurement orders, minutes of ministerial meetings, defense analyses, technology transfer agreements, weapons manuals and other secret documents that routinely flow through the labyrinth of the Indian bureaucracy.

Narayan is also said to have entertained middle level government officials in a spacious bungalow in south New Delhi’s Hailey Road, hosting parties at which attractive young women mingled with bureaucrats and bottles of imported scotch and cassette recorders were handed out to guests.

Since the existence of the spy ring surfaced last week, sending reverberations through the newly installed government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, 14 government employees and three Indian businessmen have been arrested and at least a dozen more officials have been summoned for interrogation.

Most of these arrested have been personal secretaries, office assistants, stenographers and office boys who perform routine office chores and run errands. Already involved in the scandal are six employees in the prime minister’s secretariat, two from President Zail Singh’s office, and two from the Defense Ministry’s production department                            and two from the Ministry of Commerce.

In what the Indian press has described the “French Connection,” at least one diplomat from the French Embassy, deputy military attache Lt. Col. Alain Bolley, left India, reportedly at the request of the Indian Foreign Ministry. Two French businessmen were reported to have flown to Paris when Indian intelligence agents began rounding up suspects in the spy ring.

Indian Intelligence Bureau officials reportedly have been sent to several foreign capitals, including Paris and London, to check into possible links between the espionage ring and multinational corporations that regularly trade with India.

The Indian government has shrouded the investigation in secrecy, holding all arraignments of suspects behind closed doors and sealing documentary evidence. The French Embassy has refused to comment on any aspect of the case.

What has emerged from credible Indian sources and western diplomats is a pattern of commercial espionage that appears to. Have begun with the sale of documents useful in securing government purchasing contracts, and gradually expanded into the wholesale copying and selling of classified records that could have been useful to intelligence agencies of a number of foreign governments. As yet, no foreign government has been publicly linked by the Indian government with the espionage ring.

The flourishing trade in purloined documents also happened to coincide with India’s program of modernizing its armed forces and diversifying its purchases of weapons beyond the Soviet Union to include France, Great Britain and the United States.

Article extracted from this publication >> February 1, 1985