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Sitrep | From fighter pilot to a public representative

While rehearsing for the Republic Day fly-past on January 23, 1970, Ranjit Bedi had a mid-air collision and his left stabilator was damaged. But he still managed to fly back to Chandigarh.

punjab Updated: Jun 18, 2017 13:11 IST
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Hindustan Times
Air Marshal Ranjit Bedi,Mandeep Singh Bajwa,KPS Gill
Father and son (Air Marshal RS Bedi and Flying Officer Sartaj Bedi) flying Mig-21s together in the IAF Diamond Jubilee fly-past in 1992.(Air Marshal RS Bedi)

Born in Amritsar, Air Marshal Ranjit Bedi joined the Air Force in 1956. He flew fighter planes like Vampires and Hunters at numbers 1, 7 and 17 Squadron. Besides, he also did an instructor’s course and was part of the first aerobatic display team consisting of nine Hunters.

After an instructional stint at the National Defence Academy, he joined the second Mig-21 unit, 45 Squadron at Chandigarh.

While rehearsing for the Republic Day fly-past on January 23, 1970 he was involved in a mid-air collision. Though his left stabilator (fully movable aircraft stabilizer) was damaged, affecting his stability, he managed to fly back to Chandigarh. His grit and flying skills were recognised by decorating him with the Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry). This was followed by a stint with the Directorate of Air Staff Inspection at the Air headquarters.

During the Indo-Pak war in 1971, Bedi flew Mig-21s while on attachment with 29 Squadron (Scorpions) from Sirsa. On December 16, while launching a strike on the enemy troop concentrations near Bahawalnagar, Flight Lieutenant Menon’s Mystere IVA from 31 Squadron was hit by an anti-aircraft fire, inflicting ‘Category B’ damage.

Bedi and 29 Squadron’s commanding officer, Wingco Sawardekar (who was flying top cover), nursed Menon and his plane back to Sirsa by employing every trick available in the book.

A satisfying experience it was.

After the war, he commanded 27 Squadron and was flying Hunters. His focus was now on building operational capabilities. Later, he became the station commander at Suratgarh and coordinated air support to the XI Corps. This was followed by a stint as the chief operations officer at Jamnagar.

Commanding the stations at Arjangarh and Halwara, Bedi moved up the ladder in a succession of staff jobs and finally retired as director general of defence planning staff.

Post-retirement in 1996, he was elected to the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, where he enjoyed working for the people. Nevertheless, he says politics has made him forget all virtues he had imbibed during his service life.

Today, he is a writer and an informed commentator on strategic affairs.

How KPS Gill Defeated Terrorists

Knowing that the Army was unwilling to get actively involved in Punjab owing to the fear of losing public support in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar, KPS Gill creatively used this in a strategic manner.

Army units were regaining control of the countryside using area domination tactics, exercising a commanding position at night through patrols and ambushes, disrupting terrorist movement and providing the manpower for cordons.

A popular government being voted to power and excesses by terrorists had encouraged people to come forward with information about the separatists in Punjab. This was further encouraged by rewarding those who provided actionable intelligence inputs. An informer protection programme was also in place.

Aided by some of the most brilliant intelligence officers, Gill was able to locate terrorists, their leaders and weapons caches, thus breaking the separatist movement.

Punjab’s topography is such that it does not provide militants any natural sanctuary (forest, mountains, among others) to hide in. Because of this, militants took refuge in people’s homes, in standing crops like sugarcane, and tubewells.

Under Gill’s strategy, active and passive harbourers were neutralised by identifying them, taking them into custody, booking them under law, and even elimination in few extreme cases. These measures, some of them admittedly irregular, broke the chain of sympathisers and tractable shelter providers, leaving militants bereft of safe sanctuaries for refuge. Forced to come out in the open, they became easy targets for the police.

Gill’s claim that ‘Punjab had the most humane campaign ever in the history of counter-insurgency’ is not borne out by disturbing facts. A sad blemish on an otherwise chequered career.

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First Published: Jun 18, 2017 13:11 IST