Fellow traveller remembers KPS Gill

The author, a retired IPS officer, pays tribute to ‘The General’ as he called the controversial former police officer KPS Gill who passed away in New Delhi on Friday

 PTI Photo by Vijay Kumar Joshi
PTI Photo by Vijay Kumar Joshi

SS Virk

Just a few weeks before he passed away on May 26, I saw him on TV and was shocked. He looked frail and unwell. Alarmed, I called him and was relieved to hear his firm voice. He called me over for a chat and for an hour we reminisced about the turbulent days in Punjab we had weathered together. We talked about some of those occasions when death missed us by a whisker. And then we discussed about the situation in Kashmir, the Maoist movement and other contemporary issues plaguing the nation.

It was lucky that we came out alive of what undoubtedly remains the most dangerous armed uprising in independent India. Besides luck, we escaped death in no small measure due to the leadership of KPS Gill. We managed to control the senseless violence, overcame militancy and managed to restore peace.

I remember the first time I met him. I was an SP in Punjab Armed Police and posted in Jalandhar in 1984. The General, as I later began calling him, joined as the Inspector General. I met him on his arrival and briefed him about a militant we had taken into custody. The General wanted to meet him right away. We drove out and I was surprised to see him interrogate the militant himself for several hours.

We were surprised to discover that the militant was a Hindu who had converted to Sikhism and had taken up arms under the influence of Bhindranwale. KPS spoke to him at great length to understand the circumstances and the factors that made him a militant. Impressed, I remember telling myself that a professional policeman had been sent as the IG.

The next time our paths crossed was in 1986 when KPS returned as IG, CRPF while I as the DIG was to assist him at Amritsar. Violence was at its peak in the Manjha area with daily shoot outs. It turned out to be a learning experience as KPS revised operational strategies, identified sectors and sub sectors, formed joint teams of Punjab Police and the Central Para Military Forces like CRPF and the BSF. The joint planning, patrolling, operations and information-sharing etc yielded good dividend.

The next year he was put in charge of operations in the entire state. Area domination was his first mantra as he ordered that security forces must dominate strongholds of militants. He also insisted on senior officers leading field operations. I recall vividly many of the ambushes in the ‘Maand’ led by KPS Gill himself. Another audacious step was to hold training camps in the ‘Maand’ where security forces drawn from outside the state were given pre-induction training. They were also briefed on local customs and practices, the Punjab problem and the religious issues. A set of ‘do’s and don’ts’ during the operation was also given to them.

By 1988 KPS had been promoted as the Director General of Police, Punjab. Operation Black Thunder II had started and I received a bullet on my jaw outside the Golden Temple. KPS arrives and ordered all exit points blocked. He forbade the police from entering the temple but called all devotees who were inside to leave. Once the devotees had left, he gave the militants inside the option to surrender. And all of them did come out with their arms raised. KPS had achieved the impossible without firing a shot, without entering the temple and without inflicting any damage whatsoever. This was professionalism of a very high order, spectacular and was internationally acknowledged.

By 1995 when he relinquished charge as DG, he had forged Punjab Police as an effective anti-terrorist force, prepared younger officers for leadership roles and had consolidated peace in the state.

Endowed with a cool head and a large heart, he was unruffled, focused and calm during operations. He also encouraged young officers to understand, analyse, research and prepare operational strategy.

Did he betray a trace of bitterness when I saw him for the last time ? He confessed that he felt hurt when people who gained the most from his operations turned out to be his greatest critics.

Rest in Peace, my General. I and many more like me who learnt a lot from you while restoring peace in Punjab would miss you.

The author is former DGP, Punjab and Maharashtra. A version of this piece first appeared in The Tribune

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