The Pathology of Oversight: Farooq Ahmed Dar and BJP’s Politics in Kashmir

13 February 2015
India released former JKLF commander Farooq Ahmed Dar on indefinite bail in 2006.
ROUF BHAT/AFP/Getty Images

On 29 January 2015, Farooq Ahmad Dar, chairman of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (R) (JKLF-R)—a faction of the JKLF—was on primetime television. He had come prepared as far as his appearance was concerned. He was clothed in an expensive pheran—a traditional Kashmiri gown made of wool—he seemed to have gone through a recent shave, and his hair was pomaded upwards. Dar’s slick spectacles were the finishing touch, helping him look the part he was at the studio to play.  

Dar, along with a host of other panelists, was part of the famed Newshour on Times Now, and was engaging in an eloquent discourse on the politics of Kashmiri separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Earlier that day, Geelani had termed two terrorists who were killed in an encounter in south Kashmir as “martyrs.” This was the same encounter that resulted in the death of the Indian Army colonel MN Rai. Geelani has been making such statements for a long time now, and what he said that day is consistent with the pro-Pakistan approach he has cultivated for decades.

But while Geelani made special note of the deaths of the two terrorists, the martyrdom of Col. Rai escaped the attention of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and that of his social media managers. On 27 January—the day Rai died—they were busy making light of the disastrous handling of the rains during the Republic Day parade. Modi tweeted that day, addressing Barack Obama:

@WhiteHouse

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 27, 2015

Putting aside the lack of acknowledgement on Twitter, not one member of the Modi government appeared to have the time to attend Col. Rai’s funeral in Delhi.

These omissions were not an oversight. They were a part of the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) calculated efforts towards becoming more acceptable in Kashmir.

The apathy that it has displayed towards Col. Rai’s death notwithstanding, it is unlikely that the Modi government will act against Dar. The recent debacle in Delhi elections may have changed the BJP’s equations with the Kashmir-based People’s Democratic Party (PDP), but the two parties could still end up forming a government in alliance in J&K. This is why the BJP has been reluctant to be seen pursuing a nationalistic agenda that may be unacceptable to the PDP.

Dar, who also goes by the name Bitta Karate, is a former terrorist who, in 1990, confessed on national television to killing at least twenty Kashmiri Pandits in cold blood. When releasing him on bail in 2006, the Terrorist and Disruption Activities (Prevention act) [TADA] judge ND Wani remarked, “The court is aware of the fact that the allegations against the accused are of serious nature and carry a punishment of death sentence or life imprisonment but the fact is that the prosecution has shown total disinterest in arguing the case.” Dar is now a free man on indefinite bail.

What is true of the BJP is even truer of the Delhi intelligentsia, at least as far as Geelani is concerned. He takes part in public meetings in Delhi, where they—notably those who can write dissertations on bullet trajectories in Batla House like seasoned forensic experts—shake hands with him, hug him, felicitate him and take pride in sitting next to him, cheering him on as he speaks. It does not seem to bother them that Geelani in one of his addresses to his supporters, said, “Through Islam, Kashmir is a part of Pakistan and that not socialism, or secularism, or nationalism, but Islam and Islam alone will work here.”

Now that Dar has appeared on the scene, it remains to be seen whether his criminal past will be ignored like Geelani’s.

But why is it important that Dar be put on trial for his crimes? If a psychiatrist were to examine Dar, he would be found to be a “completely normal man, more normal than, at any rate, than I am after examining him,” as one such psychiatrist examining the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann noted.

The following excerpt from the television interview on a show called ‘NewsTrack’ in which Dar confessed to his crimes would prove as much:

Journalist: Did it ever so happen that you wanted to kill someone but failed?

Dar: No.

Journalist: So you succeeded every time you wanted to kill someone?

Dar: Yes, I always succeeded. My aim was always accurate.

Journalist: What was so special about it? How did you always succeed?

Dar: It depends on muscle power. Pistol is tough to fire. Pistol fire requires strong muscle power.

Journalist: And, did you always shoot from a close range?

Dar: No, from a distance.

Journalist: How far?

Dar: 30 yards … 20 yards.

Journalist: You would kill with a pistol from such distance?

Dar: Yes.

Journalist: And, where would you aim? Head or the heart?

Dar: Most of the time I’d aim at the head or the heart.

In 2013, during the course of my conversations with Kashmiri Muslims in downtown Kashmir, I was told that in 1990, Dar would walk armed on the streets of downtown Srinagar looking for Batte mushk (the smell of Pandits). When he found his target, he would take out his pistol and shoot to kill. He is a perfect example of what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil.”

Who will put Dar on trial? In 2006, when he was let out on an indefinite bail, a Congress party-led government ruled New Delhi. Now the BJP government is in power with full majority, and it is also, for the first time, set to become a constituent of the government in Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from the Ram temple movement, it is Kashmir that the BJP used as stepping stone to walk from oblivion to national consciousness. Now the time has come for the BJP, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to prove that acche din does not mean going soft on terrorists for power gains in Kashmir. Dar should not be put on trial to just offer a delayed cure of pain to Kashmiri Pandits. Dar should be put on trial because truth must triumph over evil.

Because that is what is expected bade, bade deshon mein.

Rahul Pandita  is a Yale World Fellow and the author of “Our Moon Has Blood Clots”, a memoir of a lost home in Kashmir.    

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