In the eventuality of war, Indian armed forces wanted to neutralize every possible advantage of the enemy. India’s newly minted external intelligence agency - the barely 2-year-old Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) - provided just that.
On January 30, 1971, an Indian Airlines plane named Ganga - flying Srinagar to Jammu with 26 passengers and 4 crew - was hijacked by Kashmiri separatists, taken to Lahore and the plane burnt after releasing the passengers. India banned its airspace for all Pakistani planes which meant planes between West and East Pakistan now took 6-8 hours as it took the Sri Lankan route.
As political hostilities broke out between India and Pakistan on 25th March and a military war broke out in December, this proved crucial for the Indian armed forces which despite its disadvantages, won the war comprehensively in 13 days flat.
What few civilians in India know but everyone interested in espionage talk in laudatory whispers is that this hijacking was a ‘false-flag operation’ i.e. “a covert operation designed to deceive; the deception creates the appearance of a particular party, group, or nation being responsible for some activity, disguising the actual source of responsibility.”
Contrary to popular beliefs the history of the world is not shaped only by diplomacy but ‘guided’ by more sinister means, through covert operations run by the Deep State and/or intelligence agencies with or without the collusion of the governments in power. Usually, these operations are meant to blame hostile nations. But there have been times when it was unleased inside the nation.
What the arrest of Davinder Singh with 2 Hizbul Mujahedeen terrorists purportedly on way to Delhi to carry out a terror attack on Republic day does, is put a spotlight on the hidden world of Indian secret service operatives because the list of unanswerable questions emanating from his arrest is long. Here are just a few.
How could a cop as criminal and tainted as he survive nearly 3 decades in service? What is the trail of money in this case? If he is from and has long been posted in Pulwama, was he involved in the February 2019 attack? Afzal Guru named him as being the one who asked him to help the terrorists; does this mean he was also involved in the Parliament attack of 2001? How did win so many awards? Is he part of a larger conspiracy?
If the 2001 Parliament attack and Pulwama 2019 were false flag operations and Davinder Singh was involved in both – that means he helped bring two nuclear-powered nations to the brink of war twice.
Yet we can be certain we will never get the real answers to any of our questions? To know the answer consider his tenure of work from the 90s to now. Though bringing India and Pakistan close to war happened during the BJP rule, he has worked more when the Congress has been in power.
We may never know truths of the past, but we can safely predict Davinder’s future by looking at the fate of cousins Hashim Qureshi and Ashraf Qureshi - the hijackers of Ganga in 1971. When Pakistan realized that they had been fooled, they cut a deal with one and arrested the other who spent years in prison. When one of them came to India he was arrested and jailed. One went off to London. In different interviews over the decades, both talk of being chewed and spat out by both the countries.
Like the Qureshi cousins, Davinder Singh is but a small keg in the giant wheel of manipulation and black ops. His exposure could be anything from a genuine mistake to a deliberate one. If it’s a genuine mistake, media will be gagged, people threatened, reputations tarnished, and in the worst-case – individuals who come close to discovering the truth – killed. If it is a deliberate mistake, then they’d hope it does whatever its purpose is.
India has always had a strong and robust espionage network involved with everything you can think of or see in spy movies. It was with the help of R&AW that India under Indira Gandhi could win the 1971 war against Pakistan. And not just the actual ground war, but the psy-war (psychological warfare) division of R&AW helped Mrs. Gandhi win hearts and minds across the world resulting in famous interviews like this and this.
Knowing this, some might decry the world of espionage. However, the fact is that it has been an essential component of governance since before the days of the Greeks and Ashoka’s empire. Often spies have been like the invisible but indispensable RBCs that protect the nation against diseases that aren’t even visible.
The problem occurs when their mandate shifts and they are used inside the borders of a nation they are sworn to protect. The problem is when the government at the center uses them and psy-wars to change public opinion inside a nation instead of outside it. In such scenarios, protectors can become destroyers of national unity, sovereignty, and peace.
There is no doubt that Davinder is cannon fodder, collateral damage. What we won’t know is for what and why? Maybe he became too big for his boots? Maybe it was inter-service rivalry? Maybe he was acceptable collateral considering how bad anti-CAA and NRC protests are raging in the country? Or maybe he was being used to plan a terrorist attack in the capital as has been suggested?
Imagine a bomb going off in some market place on January 26. First, the protests would stop. Muslims – already at the receiving end of many governments like in UP – would be targeted. There would be civil-war like situation. In such an eventuality, what would the political dispensation do? They could easily declare emergency in the country, ban fundamental rights. The possibilities for a ‘creative’ government are many. Emergency is a last resort tool, but we all know it has been used well by the same woman under whom the 1971 false flag operation occurred.
Here is the problem though, there is no limit to where this can go. And it is no different than actual terrorism. The job of a terrorist is to harm you and me. Often same is the case with these shadowy organizations and operatives who clothe their actions on half-baked logic of national security. Eventually, though, the ones who end up paying the price with their lives, are common citizens.
It is to prevent something like this from happening that even in countries like the USA and Israel – the CIA and Mossad respectively are kept under the oversight of the parliament. Sadly – ‘thanks’ to Indira Gandhi who wanted to use these agencies for her benefits, that isn’t the case here. Their budgets are not known, neither are most of their operatives, what they do is classified forever. In the USA, papers of CIA and FBI are regularly made public.
Thus for a national leader not squeamish about breaking rules – like Indira Gandhi post-1971 - such agencies and their black-ops capabilities become the absolute weapon, a brahmastra. You can stop a terrorist, but local agencies are not equipped to stop such operations and their operatives. There’s no cure, no anti-dote when they are unleashed upon helpless citizens.
The 26 passengers and 4 crew of Ganga were lucky. They were released and returned safely to India. They could easily have become collateral damage because though R&AW is alleged to have launched the covert operation, it was in no condition to control it. And that is what we must remember when we consider this sordid Davinder Singh affair – after a point black-ops go out of anyone’s control and the ones who become targets – are you and me.
(Satyen K Bordoloi is a scriptwriter, journalist based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)Read more by Satyen K Bordoloi: