"Security forces can't do anything without spotters' parties. There's no question of doing away with them" – KPS Gill in Punjab, 1980s
Intelligence, at the best of times, is a game of smoke and mirrors. And the last couple of decades in the Kashmir Valley have been far from good. To get to know what the 'other' side is up to in terms of tactics, constitutes a challenge of epic proportions. There are endless characters playing the double or the triple cross, sending people to their deaths, never revealing their hands right till the end.
Davinder Singh appears to be an exception who was caught out and it is in this light that his case needs to be examined. On the face of it, it is quite appalling that a deputy superintendent of police (DSP)-level officer from Jammu and Kashmir was caught in the company of two Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) operatives, in the process revealing the fault lines of India’s security apparatus in militancy-hit regions.
Davinder Singh told his interrogators that he got Rs 12 lakh from the two HM terrorists to ferry them from Jammu to Chandigarh for their onward journey to Delhi to plan terror strikes on Republic Day. How reliable is this version of a man, who has had murky dealings in the past, most notably his role in the Afzal Guru case, is anybody’s guess. But someone, whose dealings with anti-social elements and extremists are part of his job profile, needs better scrutiny and certainly far better profiling that is available at the moment.
To see the police forces, particularly those involved in covert operations as saintly constitutionalists, is to miss the point altogether. Policing is a dirty job at all times and undercover operatives, particularly, live in a world of shadows. Not that cops dislike it. It is common knowledge that undercover policemen make big money, have virtually limitless extra-judicial powers and access to the 'goodies’ of life as compared to a normal cop. Despite the dangers of being caught out on the wrong side of the fence, no policeman will ever turn down the offer of an undercover special agent. And Davinder Singh appears to be no different.
It would be unfair to tarnish the image of a 75,000-strong police force if a couple of members in their ranks have turned rogue. The sacrifices of the Jammu and Kashmir Police since 1988 in fighting militancy are well chronicled.
Interestingly, Singh belongs to Tral, a relatively peaceful place in an otherwise disturbed Kashmir Valley’s Pulwama district until the death of its most famous resident, Burhan Wani, in 2016 at the hands of security forces. Since then, it has turned into another recruitment ground for militants. Tral has a minor Sikh population, according to the 2011 National Census.
Clearly, the question to ask is how do vigilante policemen get their much-coveted information? Obviously it cannot come from a doctor, chartered accountant or a lawyer. It can only be obtained from penetrating the world of terrorists and if a policeman is caught with such disreputable people, it would be incorrect to assume that the police and terrorists are hand-in-gloves. It cuts both ways – yes they can be hand in gloves, but if there is another way of ferreting out credible information from such alcoves, it is not yet known.
This country has a history of rogue policing in disturbed areas. Consider the following:
*** In 1988, two Punjab police officers — senior superintendent of police (SSP) Sital Das and his deputy (detective) Baldev Singh Brar — were killed by an undercover colleague, assistant sub-inspector (ASI) Dalbir Singh, who shot himself after killing his seniors. The shooting occurred within the confines of the station house officer's (SHO) room in high-security civil lines in Patiala. Both became unwitting victims of what was then admitted to be the official policy of counter-terrorism in which police-backed vigilantes were encouraged to use unorthodox methods to identify and eliminate terrorists. The incident then had also given credence to repeated charges made by civil rights activists in Punjab that the state government had 'death squads’ in an attempt to neutralise terrorists. Between 1984-94, virtually hundreds of police officers in Punjab got away scot-free for wide-ranging human rights abuses.
***The Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) was set up in Meghalaya in 2009. It was formed by a former DSP, Pakchara R. Sangma
alias Champion R. Sangma. He was the 'chairman' of the outfit along with Sohan D. Shira, former Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC) 'area commander'. Since its formation, the GNLA was involved in killing, abduction, extortion, bomb blasts and attacks on security forces. Yet, until the elimination of its leadership, the state government continued to 'examine’ its activities before declaring it an outlawed group.
***In Andhra Pradesh, the knowledge of the existence of a vigilante group, 'Green Tigers’, set up by the state police is in public domain. Their brief is to eliminate radical leftists.
*** In the heyday of its fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the 1970s and 1980s, the Tamil Nadu police had set up and recruited vigilante groups to spot and inform them about the activities of suspected extremists. Human right groups reported unknown number of custodial deaths and disappearances in the state, none of which were ever accounted for.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.