New Delhi, Jan 18 | The year was 1947, and the place Lahore. He was 12-year-old and his mother gave him two swords. She said, “You must fight the mob. If you feel you are losing, kill your sisters and then fight till your last breath.” That boy went on to become the face that eradicated terrorism in Punjab.
People who have known and worked closely with KPS Gill, former DGP of Punjab Police insist that a major reason why his strategies seldom failed was the fact that he was always more than a cop.
A man who understood the adversary, and believed in probing his psychology. Someone who was for using force, but never overwhelmingly. “It was the depth of his understanding of diverse issues that gave him a far more complete and decisive picture of the adversary. He would respond to situations with a certain completeness, which we don’t see very often today,” said Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in the capital, where the book edited by him, “Fragility of Order” (published by Kautilya); a collection of essays in honour of KPS Gill was released on Friday.
Talking to IANS, the security expert, remembering his long association with Gill recalled that the latter never took an inflexible position on anything and throughout the period of terrorism, was in constant and direct touch with the militant leaders.
“We may now have all the surrender policies. But he would tell them informally, go home, you will not be harmed — not just lower but also higher ranks. Remember, Sohan Singh just walked back into India. He was detained for a few days and then sent back to his family. He was the head of one of the Panthic committees. There are numerous examples. He gave them an option to be reabsorbed into a normal life.”
Stressing that as the police chief, he was always realistic and never ideologically driven, Sahni said that he wouldn’t sit down with western books on counter-terrorism and try to learn his strategies and tactics from there.
“He assessed the situation on the ground, improvised and responded accordingly. And this was at a time when there was a complete break down of all government institutions. He tasked the police to restore basic governance.”
The book comprises a collection of essays on subjects including terrorism, security, counter insurgency and radicalization, issues that Gill dealt with, not just during his career but also after retirement.
Sahni adds, “After his passing away there is a very significant void in the areas that he focussed on and the effort was to get a significant number of high-profile writers from across the world to write on the subject – the tremendous vulnerabilities and risks that afflict our world today -be it threat of terrorism, of demographic change, threats of radicalization, collapse of a global world order. Of the 18 essays we have, 12 are by major international writers and five by Indians, including two by me – the introductory and concluding essays.”
Stressing that in contemporary times, there was much to learn from Gill’s methods, Sahni feels, “Today, we see situations being dealt in an ideology led manner, divorced from any kind of rational assessment. Things are being done just because a party’s manifesto promised that or their ideology dictates. Nobody cares about the visible consequences but the assumption that the eventual consequences will be good.”
Talk to him about how much the government takes from think tanks, and Sahni says that there is a lack of independent ones.
“On security, you probably have a 100 think tanks in Delhi, but they overwhelming editorialise rather than research. When they do research, they start with certain premises, which are essentially dictated by the regime in power and seek to endorse existing strategy.”
Sahni, who has constantly written against publicising covert operations for political gains, feels that when covert policy becomes overt, it undermines itself.
“More importantly, I think the institutional damage such an approach does is far more dangerous and long lasting. What we are going see overtime is that the covert institutions are progressively being exposed in their patterns of actions. They will come under more and more scrutiny from other agencies.
“Eventually, institutions start getting discredited and lose public faith. People have stopped taking the CBI seriously; it has started even with NIA. If this continues, the institutions that have remained outside the public preview like the IB and R&AW will go downhill too. Every time you discredit an institution of the government, you weaken governance.”
The book launch witnessed Ajai Sahni and media persons Shekhar Gupta, Hartosh Singh Bal and Satish Jacob discuss Punjab’s militancy days and how KPS Gill managed to turn the tide.
Jacob remembered him as someone who successfully got the militants to surrender during Operation Black Thunder.
Gupta attributed Gill’s “political” mind to his success. “Unlike many, he could see the complete picture.
“He always believed that the Police should be seen in the forefront, so that they can take the blame, and not the Army. Julio Ribeiro may have talked about aa bullet for a bullet’ but Punjab was completely beyond him. Gill understood that Punjabis, especially Jats had to fight. He picked a lot of non-IPS officers and posted them in crucial areas.”
On Kashmir, Gupta added that the situation in then Punjab and present day Kashmir can’t really be compared as the latter has a much stronger Pakistan presence and a live border.
Bal emphasised how Gill ensured that minorities remained safe during the worst of times. “For him, it was important that democracy was protected at all times.”