Davinder Singh: facts, questions, and first thoughts

A decorated, trusted, J&K cop, Davinder Singh, was arrested on 11th Jan 2020 by the J&K police while accompanying two known militants and an alleged associate of theirs apparently to Chandigarh or Delhi, presumably to carry out a terrorist attack. The two militants each apparently carried a bounty of Rs. 15-20 lakh on their heads.

The arrest allegedly happened following an intercepted conversation between known militants by the J&K police. According to the J&K police, three AK-47 rifles and five grenades were also recovered from Singh's residence.

Davinder Singh is a man with a past. He is a self-confessed torturer. Most famously, he tortured Afzal Guru, who was hanged in 2013 for the 2001 Parliament Attack. Singh's own words during a subsequent interview suggest that he probably tortured many others - this was essentially his job in the SOG (special operations group) at the time. Apart from torture, he was also accused of being directly involved in terrorism. In 2004 Afzal Guru had, in writing, accused Davinder Singh of making arrangements for the parliament attack, specifically of tasking him with taking one of the attackers to Delhi and arranging his accommodation. Remarkably, Singh's possible involvement in such a major terrorist atrocity was not investigated following this accusation.

Skipping forward several years, there has been speculation about Singh's involvement in the Feb. 2019 suicide bomb attack at Pulwama which was preceded by multiple lapses in security. According to some media sources, Davinder Singh was posted in Pulwama at the time. The J&K police deny this, claiming that although Singh had been DSP of Pulwama DAR-district armed guard, he had been moved to Srinagar at the end of 2018, two months before the attack. We must assume that the media sources are mistaken. However, it is noteworthy that Davinder Singh is from Pulwama himself, and Srinagar and Pulwama are only about 30 km away. So, any questions about Singh's possible involvement in the Pulwama attack do not rest crucially on whether he was actually posted in Pulwama at the time.

Davinder Singh is, in fact, a decorated cop. According to media sources from the time, Davinder Singh received a police medal for meritorious service in August 2019. The J&K police deny that he received any such medal. Rather, they claim that the only gallantry medal he received was from the J&K police in 2018 for his role in countering an attack on district police lines in Pulwama in 2017. It remains unclear why a newspaper from August 2019 would report Singh receiving a medal, and who is getting things wrong.

Singh clearly enjoyed the trust of his superiors. On 9th Jan 2020 Singh was among the government officers meeting foreign dignitaries at Srinagar Airport. The envoys were on some kind of a tour of J&K organised by the BJP government, apparently engineered to convince the world that all is normal in Kashmir following a similar event last year. This was surely a high-security event, and his presence there suggests that he was a highly trusted officer.

A number of additional details and narratives have emerged after the events.

First, the probe into Davinder Singh has been taken over by the NIA, effectively putting it directly under the control of the union government. It is worth remembering that the NIA was accused by special public prosecutor Rohini Salian of sabotaging various Hindutva terror cases. The NIA has also recently been accused of torture. Most relevant to this case, the NIA has, to date, failed to file a chargesheet in the Feb. 2019 Pulwama attack case.

Apparently, the J&K police are now investigating Davinder Singh's possible role in the Pulwama attack of August 2017 which killed four policemen. This is the same attack which police sources claim earned him a medal for gallantry - see above! This suggests that they believe that, in principle, Singh could be involved in further terrorist acts. Despite this, the BJP has aggressively opposed any investigation into the possible role of Singh in the Feb. 2019 Pulwama attacks.

Another development is that "sources" have claimed that Davinder Singh took 12 lakhs for the job escorting militants, suggesting that his motivation was financial. Superficially consistent with this angle is the fact that he has been accused of making money through extortion in the past. It is likely that this financial angle will be played up by media close to the government. However, the financial angle by itself doesn't stack up - for one thing this sum is considerably less than the reported bounty on the terrorists.

Clearly Singh was corrupt and was rogue in the sense that he acted outside the law. But it seems extremely implausible that he acted in this way, possibly for more than two decades, without either falling into disgrace, or approval from higher authorities. But who? Afzal Guru's testimony does not suggest that Singh was acting for money. The most important single question must surely be why Singh was never investigated for the 2001 Parliament attack, or at least monitored after the attack.

If Singh had protection which went higher than the J&K police, an open question is whether Singh's arrest was authorised at the highest levels or not. Could it even have been a mistake - the local police force zealously doing its job but without the knowledge of any higher authority? It is undoubtedly the case that a terrorist attack in Delhi carried out by Kashmiri militants would be a huge gift to the BJP in the current climate of widespread disaffection and protest. One must ask whether such an event was being planned, and if so by whom and to what end. It is likely that Davinder Singh holds sensitive and damaging information, which must surely place him at risk. Let's hope that media scrutiny means that he is somewhat protected, because some have already called for his execution. We await some answers.