OBITUARY: K .P.S GILL
Abig and strong man with a heart of gold” is how A.S. Dulat, former chief of the Research & Analysis Wing, remembers Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, India’s most celebrated police officer, who passed away at the age of 82 on May 26. In fact, that would be exactly how his friends—and he had legions of friends—would describe Gill. Not as the fearsome, unsmiling cop that many who never knew him saw. But someone who always stood behind you, like a rock.
For all the tomes that have been written about Gill’s impossible-to-replicate contribution—rescuing Punjab from the two-decade-long bloodbath wrought by the Khalistani terror machine—what really made the man a legend in his own lifetime was his ability to inspire confidence and loyalty in the men he led from the front.
S.S. Virk, a former Punjab DGP who served under Gill, describes how he actively mentored young officers, encouraging them to understand and analyse situations before preparing counter-strategies. Suresh Arora, Punjab’s incumbent police chief, says his most significant takeaway from Gill was to ‘respond, never react’ to a crisis. Confident of his support, young officers boldly took on the terrorists, gradually turning the tide in a state that everyone seemed to have given up on.
And Gill never failed them, from ensuring that the Punjab police became the best-equipped force in the country to tackle terrorism, to always showing up when one of his men got injured or was killed. Even after retirement, he was there for the last rites of Ajit Singh Sandhu— a police officer who had been instrumental in defeating Khalistani terrorism in Tarn Taran—who had committed suicide, embroiled in cases of human rights abuse.
Aside from the battle on the ground, Gill recognised the importance of staying ahead of his adversaries in the perception war. From escorting Bollywood actor Sridevi on an evening walk along Chandigarh’s Sukhna lake to leading his men into militant strongholds like the Mand (the marshy floodplain of the Sutlej) as part of ‘Operation Night Dominance’—the pictures on the front page of every newspaper did the rest. Policemen who had once sought safety in padlocked thanas became unafraid, people were reassured, and the terrorists who had ruled the hinterland were on the run.
The only people who had any real reason to fear Gill were the Khalistanis and those who drew sustenance from the strife. Many of his worst critics, he told Virk just weeks before his death, were the biggest beneficiaries of the peace the Punjab police resurrected under his command.
K.P.S. Gill was rather unceremoniously shown the door on December 31, 1995, by the then Congress government in Delhi. A one-line fax message received at the Gazette Officer’s Mess, Gill’s residence-cum-office in Chandigarh, informed him that he had been retired, effective midnight. Typically, the man showed no reaction. He spent New Year’s evening doing what he liked best—sipping a glass of his favourite whiskey and reciting Persian poetry to his friends.
The only people who had reason to fear Gill were the Khalistanis and those who drew sustenance from the strife