Almost all the obituaries on the recently deceased ex Punjab DGP Mr K P S Gill, glorify him as a national hero. Some so much so that it is a wonder India’s editors best suited to write Bollywood scripts, haven’t campaigned for a monument installed near LokSabha for Gill. He is credited with saving India, having destroyed ‘terrorism’ by leading from the front. His bravery, they say, brought peace to Punjab. The Sikhs call him ‘ the Butcher of Punjab’ and a British MP, Max Madden, said of Gill after meeting him in Punjab, ‘‘In all my life, I have never come face to face with a living cold evil except in those twenty minutes”. Madden had met many people in his life from all sides of conflicts around the world.
So what was Gill, a supercop, a man of unique courage, a saviour of Indian secularism, a religious Sikh, the person who brought terrorism to an end in Punjab? Or as many human rights organisation around the world have pointed, a man who ran the biggest state sanctioned unconstitutional killer mafia engaged in extrajudicial executions, torture, illegal detentions and extortions.
Despite glorious platitudes from the PM and other politicians, Gill spent his years waiting for a call to be appointed a Governor or an Ambassador somewhere. Apart from a Padma Shri, nothing followed. Perhaps they knew another side of him.
As for ending ‘terrorism’ in Punjab, a little fact being overlooked is that there was virtually little real organised insurgency In Punjab during Gill’s unconstitutional vigilante cop rule in Punjab. In fact one of the few acts that Khalistanis actually planned succeeded under Gill’s nose, the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. So much for ‘super cop’ who couldn’t even protect his boss, a politician with greater security than the Indian PM at the time.
It was in 1993 at the UN Human Rights Council that an NGO made a statement saying ‘if India wants to stop the violence in Punjab, it can do so within 3 months. All India has to do is reign in its police as most of the killings are extortion rackets, contract killings and extrajudicial executions of human rights activists and young men engaged in political activity, not insurgency.’ As it is, after Gill’s retirement, the so called ‘terrorism’ did end within 3 months. How? Simple. The new Akali Government reigned in the Police to attract investment. ‘Terrorism solved’.
Gill’s crowning glory of these unconstitutional executions was the brutal murder of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra during his reign. Khalra had exposed Punjab Police’s notorious activities of killing ordinary citizens and cremating them as unidentified and unclaimed bodies. Most of the 3000 victim data compiled from a mere 3 cremation grounds showed that some of the victims were simply exercising their constitutional rights of free speech and others were victims caught in the nexus of police extortion rackets run in cahoots with some politicians and local criminals. Many of these criminals became the infamous ‘blackcats’ killing people they knew. Blackcats were provided money, houses and immunity. Some have confessed that the people they killed were not ‘khalistanis’.
Khalra took the bold step of taking the evidence of cremation grounds to the world. On his return from Canada, he was picked, tortured and killed. He is one of the so called ‘Khalistani terrorists’ that the Indian press is applauding Gill for killing!
Gill’s understanding of the ‘problem’ as he saw it was that the political class, the bureaucrats and other police officers were too soft, too obsessed with the law! His answer was to become judge jury and executioner without letting any of the independent institutions of the State that make a democratic country function as a civilised State, to intervene! This was pure Idi Amin territory. The extraordinary thing is that India not only permitted this psychopathic killing spree without scrutiny, but is still fawning over his tactics!
After General Dwyer who had also decided that the authorities were too soft on ‘trouble makers’ holding political rallies for independence and decided to take the law into his own hands in the infamous Jallianwallah Massacre, K P S Gill is the second lawman who inflicted that approach on the people of Punjab. Gill famously said that human rights activists were in fact ‘terrorists’ and he believed in the policy of ‘elimination’ rather than due process of the law, a strange oath for a lawman to take.
The evidence for Gill’s one man unconstitutional rule in Punjab is not difficult to dig. If there are indeed any serious editors worthy of their salt in any of the Indian newsmedia, all they have to do is conduct a small investigative journalistic research into the personal fortunes of killer police officers who emerged at that time. Extortions and landgrab by police officers became common.
Gill had irritated many good law abiding IPS cops who believed in the constitution and came through the proper merit system and passing exams. Gill promoted junior officers over their heads without requiring institutionalised training. The only qualification for these promotions was the number of ‘suspects’ they killed. A divided Punjab police is still trying to recover from the rot set at that time with decent police officers attempting to rebuild the reputation of Punjab police.
Gill had decided on circumventing the law, created a list of people to kill and let his killer cops loose with guns and comprehensive impunity. The list of ‘suspected terrorists’ to be killed on this list was less than 100. So who have been the officially acknowledged over 20000 people killed as ‘terrorists’ under Gill’s regime. An army of 20000 insurgents cold topple any country. Any Indian journalist willing to look deeper when scribing these numbers?
Gill’s strategy, as commented by human rights organisations, was to ‘eliminate’ the demographic base from which Khalistanis could recruit. His tactic was to co-opt willing criminal minded individuals from the community and arm them to work along his police force. He famously said that the jat sikh simply wants arms and power, if he is able to provide that, they will be on his side, mercenaries to do his work. One Khalistani said, he was himself the first mercenary police officer in India, willing to do their dirty ‘work’
A study conducted by a non-Indian academic institution, the University of Coventry, at that time showed that in Punjab, which normally has high rates of homicide and serious crimes, suddenly saw a complete drop in these in official figures. Almost every death was being lodged as ‘terrorist encounter’ and every detention as ‘terrorist suspect’. They form part of his statistics of eliminating terrorism! After his retirement, crime statistics went back to normal since they were being recorded properly.
In fact a limited investigation under the Supreme Court, instigated after much international criticism of extrajudicial executions, found that the majority of the 3000 killed by police and cremated as unclaimed and unidentified, were in fact not even Khalistanis. Many were victims of extortion by police officers! Their families could not pay ransom! This is Indian Supreme Court finding, not a claim made by a human rights organisation.
Many Sikh organisations have asked for an independent enquiry into the Gill years. Who were the 20000 minus the 100 official suspects executed as ‘terrorists’. Perhaps a newspaper in India which is not a propaganda sheet, could do this study.
There is no doubt that there were insurgent actions during the period of 1988 and 1996. But they had few members and were engaged in targeted actions. They are still active as last week’s arrests in Punjab have shown.
Of the one coordinated action that Gill is much praised for is Operation Blackthunder in 1986. Again vital facts are being ignored. The people in Sri Darbar Sahib were neither the first nor the second tier of Khalistani leadership. They were untrained ‘footmen’ left there as ‘caretakers’ and the three main organisations knew that the group inside Sri Darbar Sahib had been ‘infiltrated’ by intelligence agencies. One of the most famous spy inside was no less than the now NSA Doval who had pretended to be an ISI operative and won the confidence of the so called ‘terrorists’.
Indeed if that group had defended themselves, it would have surprised most Khalistani leaders. Gill was fully aware of all this. There is no bravery in sending your own agents into a rogue action and then capturing them! Is that what it takes to be an Indian supercop, choreograph a theatre for Government propaganda?
The one time Gill did meet a Khalistani outside his well run torture cells was in Europe when he came face to face with one in a street. The chap swore. Gill responded by running away and losing his turban. The turban is held proudly by that Sikh as a trophy. It is the biggest humiliation for a Sikh to surrender the turban to an adversary. So much for courage.
Neither trusted by the State that he allegedly saved nor respected by the community he belonged to, he spent his last days banned from many countries.
While the nationalist media reverentially praises him, it is worth considering whether Gill in fact corrupted what remained of the moral fabric of the Indian State after Mrs Gandhi. What exactly is that constitution for? Out of the box for him meant out of the constitution.