KPS Gill: A ‘fearsome’ police officer even during Assam Agitation days
His reputation as a no-nonsense officer nosedived after 22-year-old Khargeshwar Talukdar, a students’ union leader died on December 10, 1979, allegedly of police action.india Updated: May 27, 2017 15:53 IST
In 2013, KPS Gill turned back the pages of history to the 1979-1985 Assam Agitation and revived sentiments when he said Khargeshwar Talukdar, revered as the first of 855 martyrs of the agitation against illegal immigrants from 1979 to 1985, did not die of police action but had drowned in a pond.
The “tough” cop, credited with erasing militancy in Punjab, erased whatever goodwill he had when he served his first stint as an IPS officer in Assam till 1984.
As an officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, Gill had a reputation of being a tough, efficient police officer. He was also known for inviting student leaders over for drinking sessions despite ideological differences.
Gill’s popularity as a no-nonsense officer nosedived after 22-year-old Talukdar, a Barpeta district leader of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), died on December 10, 1979.
Protesters had tried to prevent Begum Abida Ahmed, wife of former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, from filing her nomination papers from the Barpeta Lok Sabha seat.
Gill, who led the police force in escorting Begum Abida, cracked down on the protesters. Talukdar’s body was found in a ditch by the roadside after brutal cane-charge, which participants of the agitation recalled, left many seriously injured.
Protesters carried Talukdar’s body throughout Barpeta town and in Guwahati to fuel the agitation against which Gill stood firm.
As Gill took his tough cop reputation to Punjab and Kashmir, people in Assam almost forgot him until Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s Asom Gana Parishad-led coalition government (1997-2001) requested him to be the state’s security adviser.
Few missed the irony of inviting the very police officer who was the “enemy number one” during the Assam Agitation that Mahanta had led.
Many in Assam seemed to have forgiven Gill as he began to be invited to functions. But his trip to Tezpur in 2013, where he “belittled” Talukdar’s martyrdom, brought back memories of the “fearsome” police officer, often on horseback, cracking down on protesters.
“We burnt his effigies to protest his blatant lie. It was Gill who had beaten Khargeshwar black and blue, leading to his death,” Shankar Prasad Rai, then-president of AASU, said.
“In his early career, he came across as the ideal police officer — strong, courageous, efficient, and incorrigible,” political commentator Haider Hussain told HT. “But Assam Agitation changed all that. He played a role that suited the government of the day but to the people, it was against the interests of the state.”
But Gill had a way of being critical of the government too. Two decades ago, he had blamed the Nellie communal violence of February 1983 on a deliberately understaffed civil administration that led to a few policemen being killed. More than 3,000 people, mostly migrant Muslims, were massacred that year.
He was also critical of the Golap Borbora government, the first non-Congress one in Assam after Emergency, for using students to create a communal divide that “defined Assam Agitation”.
He was critical too, of the Assam Accord of 1985 that put an end to the agitation.
In an interview to The Hindu a few years ago, he said: “The Hiteswar Saikia (Congress) government was in place in Assam. The Army was back to the barracks after six months of the assembly elections; there was peace.
“The Centre, instead of consolidating that peace and fostering development, handed over the governance to Asom Gana Parishad, who themselves didn’t know where they were going.”