The world remembers Kanwar Pal Singh Gill as the super-cop who ended terrorism in Punjab. I personally remember him as an editor’s dream-come-true. His edit-page articles for The Pioneer never required editing. The day it would be his column’s turn, the desk would relax and relish his expressions as readers. Cynical as we journalists are trained to be, some peers suggested the pieces were ghost-written by his son-in-law Ajai Sahni. But I’ve read Sahni, too. The writing styles were as different as, say, John Keats’ parlance would be from TS Eliot’s lingo.
As a former policeman, Gill demonstrated in the course of his talks at seminars and events to launch books on national security that his mission in Punjab was anything but a manifestation of blunt obedience of the political boss. After ‘root cause’ theorists from the left camp ended up justifying militancy, he would rise to share anecdotes from his illustrious career that would demolish the terrorist’s excuse of grievance. His examples that spanned the entire stretch between the Northeast and Punjab via what is now Chhattisgarh made the audience realise that an outlaw always had an axe to grind, some pecuniary benefit to extract and a hegemony to establish or maintain. Additionally, of course, a terrorist would desire an atmosphere where not only the establishment but also the people he purportedly represented bowed to him out of sheer fear. Nobody ever took to terror to serve a cause ― root or otherwise ― the accounts from Gill’s service records tell.
Gill was, above all, a nationalist. More than a disciplined man in uniform who had to execute the orders handed down to him. He had to crush militancy even when the scourge echoed by and large the sentiment of his religious community. To him, the nation-state was supreme. For two decades after terrorism in Punjab ended, up to his death, he never regretted Operation Bluestar. And here is something today’s “nationalists” might not like about him. Indira Gandhi is long dead; her son Rajiv is gone; the Congress-led UPA dispensation can no longer bestow upon a retired officer a benign gaze. Nevertheless, even when you asked him during the last few years of Modi’s era which political leader he enjoyed working under the most, he would name Indira Gandhi. This, even as he would add of late that Indira Gandhi should have fathomed the fallout of her actions. His latest opinion about the then Prime Minister was most certainly a revision of his steadfast stand in the previous decades.
The objective will forever be amused by the question as to why the entry of terrorists does not amount to desecration of a place of worship but that of the country’s regular army does.
Finally, the case of molestation against Gill resulted from a serious lapse of discrimination. Neither the fact that slapping a colleague’s bum with a file, register or log book is commonplace in many offices nor the fact that some women do it to their male co-workers, too ― as do some men to other men ― justifies the act. It hardly matters that the incident occurred during a party. Rupan Deol Bajaj got the justice she sought from the highest court of the country, which accepted the Punjab & Haryana High Court’s decision to convert the concomitant jail sentence into probation. Still, some eminent personalities, both men and women, believe she should have protested vehemently on the spot and stopped short of adding a blemish to the tenure of a man who would otherwise have retired a hero. I disagree with them. Even if with a heavy heart, one must spell out loud and clear a mistake of a character who would, under all other conditions, be admirable.
Administration of hockey was the other wrong choice Gill made, which dragged him into bureaucratic tussles a legend must steer clear of. Thankfully, on his death, his admirers including his issue-based critics are recalling mainly the resolution and bravery he displayed in the Punjab of the 1980s.