India Today - - UPFRONT - —Asit Jolly

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

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