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An eye for an eye: How KPS Gill wiped out militancy in Punjab

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When we speak about Operation Blue Star, our memory immediately goes back to the Khalistan Movement in Punjab. This movement in which a separate nation was demanded for had become extremely violent in nature and gave birth to militancy in Punjab.

KPS Gill

The state was under the grip of terrorists and Punjab was almost paralysed until one man walked in and decided to clear the mess. This is the late KPS Gill, referred to as super cop. The no-nonsense man was on a mission and he did exactly what was he told to do.

34 years since Operation Blue Star: What led to the birth of the Khalistan Movement

The 1957 batch Indian Police Service officer from the Assam cadre began his first stint in Punjab in 1985. His second stint followed in 1986 when he was sent back as IG of the CRPF and IF Border Range, Punjab police.

He was brought in as the DGP for the first time in May 1988 after the civilian killings in the state had peaked. He achieved immediate success through Operation Black Thunder which completely liberated the Golden Temple from the militants without the kind of killings that Operation Blue Star witnessed.

Harinder Baweja recalls the operation in the Hindustan Times. "He ordered water and electricity to be cut off and finally forced the terrorists to surrender in the full glare of television cameras. The sight of 'khadkus' walking out with their arms up broke the proverbial back of the Punjab militancy... Gill walked ahead of us and as we went in tentatively - stepping on glass shards and ammunition empties. He made most of us crouch as we approached the Harmandar Sahab - the sanctum sanctorum - for fear that some terrorists may still be in hiding... Gill walked straight, without once crouching and a few evenings later, when I met him again, for a one-on-one chat, he said, "The turban must always be held high."

An eye for an eye: How KPS Gill wiped out militancy in Punjab

While in 1989 there was a relative decline in terrorism, the statistics rose in 1990. He was transferred to Delhi to facilitate negotiations with Khalistan groups in December 1990. It was in 1992 when militancy in Punjab peaked the most, with more than 5, 000 reported killed.

How Operation Blue Star unfolded

In 1992, the Indian government, "intent on retaking Punjab from terrorism", appointed Gill as Chief of Police in Punjab. The police and army instituted a crackdown, and in 1993 the reported death toll was less than 500.

In 1993, The New York Times reported, the people of Punjab no longer feared the Sikh "rebels or gangs", but instead feared the army and police. Patricia Gossman describes Gill as having a "goal to eliminate, not merely arrest, militant Sikh leaders and members. KPS Gill also expanded a bounty system of rewards for police who killed known militants a practice that encouraged the police to resort to extrajudicial executions and disappearances.

The police were awarded financially for killing militants. "India's central government created a special fund to finance Punjab's death squads, to pay the network of informants who provided information about militants and those suspected of supporting militants, and to reward police who captured and killed them. The reward was about Rs 50,000 rupees.

Explainer: Who is Jarnail Singh Bindranwale, the man who necessitated Operation Blue Star

Under Gill the scope of tracking down and arresting militants went beyond Punjab to other parts of India. "There were several reports during 1993 that Punjab police "hit teams" were pursuing alleged Sikh militants in other parts of India. On 17 May, one such team raided an apartment in Calcutta looking for alleged militant Lakshmi Singh. According to neighbours, Punjab police commandos broke into the apartment early that morning, shot Singh and his wife in their bedroom, then fled with the bodies. The government of West Bengal lodged a protest with the Punjab government, but no disciplinary action was reported against the police commandos.

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