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‘Overhaul education system, create jobs to fight Punjab’s drug problem’

Replugging his last interview with KPS Gill on 25 years of Operation Black Thunder, senior resident editor Ramesh Vinayak finds the views expressed by the former Punjab top cop as relevant today as they were in the wake of a raging row over the Bhindranwale memorial in Golden Temple in May 2013.

punjab Updated: May 27, 2017 22:31 IST
Former DGP of Punjab,KPS Gill
Former DGP of Punjab,KPS Gill(File Photo)

History has an uncanny way to resonate in the Golden Temple. The holiest Sikh shrine was at the centre of a raging row between the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and the hardliner seminary, Damdami Taksal in May 2013. The bone of contention was the display of a photo and name of militant preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale at the newly-built memorial gurdwara dedicated to those who died during the 1984 army action.

The SGPC had mandated the Taksal, once led by Bhindranwale, to build the ‘yadgaar’ shrine. While the SGPC, having given a word to the world that the memorial will have no visual or written reference to Bhindranwale, found itself in a bind with the Taksal hawks in no mood to retreat.

Curiously, the SGPC-Taksal face-off was a throwback to the post-Bluestar years when the apex religious body was outmanoeuvered by radicals to entrench themselves in the Harmandar Sahib complex. That had culminated in the 1988 Operation Black Thunder which got underway on May 9, over quarter of a century ago.

Leading the dramatically successful operation that flushed out the holed-up militants without security forces entering the shrine was Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, as the director general of police, Punjab. In later years, the Assam cadre IPS officer was credited with stamping out a decade-old virulent terrorism in Punjab.

In an interview with senior resident editor Ramesh Vinayak, Gill, 79, reflected on Operation Black Thunder and its aftermath, minced no words on the danger in eulogising Bhindranwale and his cohorts as ‘martyrs’, and lambasted both the SGPC and then ruling Shiromani Akali Dal for placating radicals.

Q: What was the ‘Gill Plan’ in May 1988?

A: When Sarabdeep Singh Virk, DIG, CRPF, was shot through his jaws outside the Golden Temple by militants inside, security forces instantly laid a siege to the shrine. At a high-level meeting in Delhi, I laid out an operational plan for taking control of the serai complex, langar hall and the ‘bungas’ without making any foray into the Darbar Sahib. Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi approved it and called it the ‘Gill Plan’. It was later re-christened Operation Black Thunder. Subsequently, both the National Security Guards chief Ved Marwah and director, intelligence bureau, claimed that they had planned the operation in advance which was bullshit.

Q: But, you also had a tiff with then minister for internal security P Chidambaram?

A: After the militants’ surrender, we found the sanctum sanctorum horribly defiled. I allowed only Doordarshan to film it and that too only for record sake and not for showing. There was gold in one of the Parikarma rooms that we refused to confiscate. Instead, I had it handed over to the SGPC. On both counts, I was seen to be disobeying government instructions, and Rajiv decided to suspend me. But when he was briefed on the rationale behind my decisions, he apologised through the governor.

Q: Despite success, the operation didn’t stem terrorism…

A: There was no effect on terrorists as such. But it did discredit them for a little while. That was because of the bodies of those tortured and killed by terrorists found in the mound of debris in the complex. But the very significant thing that was not noticed was that we had hired KTS Tulsi as special prosecutor to try the terrorists who had surrendered. But the then chief secretary and home secretary replaced Tulsi saying he was too expensive. As a result, terrorists were set free. Those sort of things gave a fillip to terrorism.

Q: You mean the gains of Operation Black Thunder were frittered away?

A: In a way, yes. The argument that I heard after VP Singh became prime minister was that terrorism was a Congress problem and with the Congress defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, it would go away. They ignored that Pakistan was backing different terror outfits.

Q: How do you look at Punjab’s political parties defending convicted terrorists?

A: Denying the holocaust is an offence in many countries. But here they were reaching a stage where they were trying to deny terrorism and say it was all done by the police and all bad things by the police agents.

Q: What’s your take on the Bluestar memorial built in Harmandar Sahib?

A: This is a dangerous thing. You can’t placate Damdami Taksal that has been the fountain head of terrorism. How can you put such people at Golden Temple? They (the Taksal) are semi-literate idiots who think they are great Sikhs and are doing a great service to the community.

Q: What are the implications of the Bluestar memorial in the Golden Temple?

A: The serious implication is that people will start believing what they (radicals) want them to believe. Harmandar Sahib is the holiest place for the Sikhs, and Bhindranwale is not acceptable a vast majority of Sikhs. Bhindranwale may be a big chap for those sitting in America or Canada, but he was a buffoon. They are calling him a saint, while in reality he was a devil incarnate.

Q: But, the clergy has hailed Bhindranwale as a martyr?

A: You can’t artificially create great personalities.

Q: Some see it as the Taksal’s move to keep Bhindranwale’s legacy alive?

A: They can’t do it even if they put up thousands of photographs of Bhindranwale in the gurdwaras. That’s because people have rejected him.

Q: But, the memorial has the mandate of the SGPC.

A: The SGPC is only a manager of the shrine; it doesn’t belong to it. The Centre must amend the Gurdwara Act to make the manager responsible and accountable.

Q: You recently said that the SGPC should be disbanded.

A: Yes, because it has again and again abdicated its responsibility. The gurdwara land is being given to the SGPC members at a cheap rate. Can they point to a single act of theirs in 20 years that furthered the cause of Sikhism? Neither the SGPC nor the government has learnt any lessons from the past.

Q: Can terrorism come back to Punjab?

A. Not in the form and at the scale that we witnessed in the ’80s and ’90s. But violence in other ways can manifest itself. Drug addiction is only a symptom of lawlessness.

Q: Is the failure to deliver justice in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots feeding radical ideology?

A: The riots remain a black spot on Indian democracy. But remember terrorism started before 1984. Blaming the riots for terrorism is the way in which radicals have been orchestrating the history so that the Sikhs start believing that.

Q: Have the Akalis learnt any lessons from the past?

A: Neither the Akalis nor the government. The Akalis feel that terrorism was something that helped them consolidate their base. They subdued and not their normal exuberant self because of they are surviving on the BJP.

Q: What’s the lesson for Punjab?

A: Overhaul the education system, bring it in line with the best modern practices and make it employment-oriented.