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Worshipped, and Hated, KPS Stamped his Mettle

He was cold and ruthless, bordering on ferocious. It was difficult to stare him in the eye. With his six feet plus broad-shouldered frame and steely eyes he could invoke fear in the hearts of even the toughest of people. Kanwar Pal Singh Gill (popularly known as KPS), the original 'super cop' credited with crushing Khalistani militancy in Punjab with an iron hand in the late 80s and early 90s, is no more, but his legacy will live on.

Originally belonging to the Assam cadre of the Indian Police Service, KPS, who had two stints as state police chief in Punjab, was a God to his diehard subordinates, terrorist victim families and the country as a whole, but a villain in the eyes of votaries of human rights. Through his two tenures with the Punjab Police, from 1988 to 1990 and from 1991 till his retirement in 1995, the police force under him relentlessly and mercilessly went after the Khalistani militants, not brooking any interference from the political class.

Worshipped, and Hated, KPS Stamped his Mettle, Lifeinchd

Photo By: Life in Chandigarh

The challenges were daunting, but Gill was apparently made of sterner stuff which made him more than equal to the challenges. With marauding gangs of militants, riding on the demand by hardliners for a separate state for Sikhs, perpetrating mass massacres of minority Hindu population in the state, assassinating political and religious leaders and security officers and resorting to looting and kidnapping for ransom, the super cop followed the avowed path of eliminating the militants in real or staged encounters and rewarding his men and officers for the feats.

Though he denied it officially, he made no bones about it in private. That was the only way to bring them to justice, he would say, displaying an utter disregard for the judiciary, which appeared to have wilted out of fear for the militants. You kill 10 and I will kill 20 of you, appeared to be his approach.

One of these proactive strategies which appeared to work for him was “Night Dominance” in which officers and men in each district, working on intelligence inputs, would spread out during the night and hunt for militants operating in their respective areas in an effort to put fear of the police in their minds. So brash was Gill that he would take journalists along during some of these night operations.

He was also known to often take select journalists in his Pawan Hans copter to sites of major encounters. As a rookie news agency journalist, I was one of my ilk who went on one such sortie to terrorist infested Makhu area in the border district of Ferozepur. The area, from which one of the most dreaded terrorist Nishan Singh Makhu hailed, had witnessed a mass massacre and the police in retaliation had eliminated a greater number of terrorists in an apparently staged encounter. Some of the weapons which were shown to have been recovered from the militants were worn out and heavily rusted.

Gill was also known not to brook any criticism of his style of functioning, and bad publicity in the Media was not acceptable to him at all. He is known to have had a run in with several journalists, most of whom were forced to swallow the bitter pill.

I remember one such director encounter with the man, when KPS cautioned me against going ahead with a news report. The matter was regarding what the Punjab Police was projecting as kidnapping and rape of a minor Dalit girl by a then opposition BSP legislator, which later turned sour for the police, when the political party leadership produced the girl at a media conference in a Chandigarh hotel to dispute the police claim. The police had surrounded the hotel to prevent the media meet but the BSP outsmarted them. The matter was subsequently raised a media forum which condemned Gill and then Chief Minister Beant Singh for their high-handedness towards the Media.

Besides arming his men with latest weapons like AK series of assault rifles, Gill had to his credit other innovative ways of combating the Pakistan-backed militants. Bullet proof vehicles were purchased in large numbers and bullet proof tractors made their first entry in anti-terror operations to flush out militants taking shelter in sugarcane fields. These tractors proved extremely effective for quick neutralisation in such situations and reduced risk to the lives of police personnel engaged in such operations.

Such was the fear of a ruthless Gill among the militants that they never dared to attack him during his tenure, when two previous state police chiefs, Gill’s immediate predecessor Julio Ribeiro and D S Mangat narrowly escaped audacious attacks on their self.

In fact Julio Ribeiro, who was credited with first bringing professionalism into a demoralised police force in the state, in his tribute to Gill, has admitted that KPS’s approach to tackling Punjab militancy was just the opposite of his own. But the former Mumbai Commissioner of Police has given full marks to Gill for being a hands-on operations man who brought Punjab militancy to its knees.

The deft handling of Operation Black Thunder in 1988 to flush out militants from the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar without much collateral damage to the shrine, as opposed to the brutal Army assault on the Golden Temple in 1984, also speaks volumes of the tactical brain.

Love him, or hate him, KPS will always be remembered as the ‘Super Cop’ of our Age.

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