Davinder Singh: The symptom of a deep malaise in Jammu & Kashmir Police

Davinder Singh | Illustration Binay Sinha
Just about a year ago, on February 14, India reeled from a shock as an SUV loaded with 350 kg of explosives rammed into a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men in Pulwama; 44 were killed. There were several mysteries surrounding the attack which remained unexplained.

The bus was part of a convoy of 78 CRPF vehicles. Why was that particular bus chosen? Where did the SUV come from and who really financed its purchase? What motivated Adil Ahmed Dar, 22, and about to give his Class XII exam, to carry out the act? And above all: 350 kg of explosives! Who aided it and how could such a massive amount of explosive material be collected without anyone knowing?

The nation was caught in election fever. The Balakot surgical strikes were an answer that proved the government had muscle; they put the Opposition on the defensive. Many analysts feel the Narendra Modi government returned on the back of the decisive action following the attack. But the questions lingered on.

Now with the arrest of Davinder Singh of the Jammu & Kashmir Police, the light is being shone anew at an episode that is considered the worst terror attack on security forces in recent times. Especially, the role of collaborators.

On January 11, police arrested 57-year-old Singh, a deputy superintendent of police, at Mir Bazar in Kulgam, along with terrorists of the banned Hizbul Mujahideen, Naveed Baba and Altaf, besides a lawyer who was working as an overground worker for terror outfits. 

On January 13, Singh was suspended as he had been in custody for 48 hours. Not much is known about the circumstances in which Singh came to be in the company of the people he was supposed to be hunting down. Worse was to follow — allegations flew thick and fast about his connection with the militancy and also the Pulwama attack. Counterinsurgency specialists, however, say the connection is tenuous as Singh was transferred out from Pulwama almost six months before the attack took place and as RDX is an unstable explosive, it is unlikely it would have been stored for such a long time.

Kulbir Krishan, a 1976-batch IPS officer from the Assam-Meghalaya cadre who has served in Kashmir, says the problem is structural. “You cannot blame the 60,000-strong Jammu & Kashmir Police for one bad egg. But it is clear that Davinder Singh could not have continued working in the police for such a long time unless he had someone’s protection. So whoever were helping him — policemen, or politicians or administrators — they too must be brought to book.”

The fact is, using militants to fight militants is a counterinsurgency strategy that is as old as the hills. It was used by legendary policeman K P S Gill in Punjab when India backed the Khalistan Liberation Force to cause internecine warfare among militant groups. In the northeast, many lawmakers became law-breakers: In Meghalaya, the Garo National Liberation Army was formed by a policeman who deserted the force to form his own militant group, and  complete with an army and a commander-in-chief. Champion Sangma and his ‘Army Chief’ Sohan D Shira continued to run arms and explosives and extort money until Sangma was caught by the Bangladeshi authorities and handed over to the Border Security Force. Shira was killed in an armed encounter. 

Counterinsurgency experts say nurturing armed groups by providing them weapons, money and other ‘facilitation’ is part of the legitimate infiltration/informant activity to fight insurgency. It is possible that Singh started from that and expanded his area of expertise, such as it was.

Singh caught the attention of the Ghulam Nabi Azad/Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government when it was in power in the erstwhile state. At the time, a woman approached the J&K High Court to charge Singh with extortion: She said her husband had been spirited away by Singh, who was demanding cash for letting him go. The high court passed strictures against Singh. But within months Singh was given a promotion.

It could take up to four months for the National Investigation Agency, which has taken over the case, to prepare a charge sheet. Until then judgment on Singh must stay suspended. But the problem is structural; Singh is just a symptom.

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