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‘The only time I’ve slept badly in my life was in Gujarat. Just hearing the descriptions. Never before, never after’

From Assam to Punjab to Gujarat to Mumbai, supercop KPS Gill has seen various faces of terror. But it is the Naxals who are the most brutal, says the man who is now Chhattisgarh government’s advisor on dealing with the Naxal threat. Still, when common men raise their voice, there is still hope, Gill tells The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV’s Walk the Talk


July 25, 2006 3:00:48 am

Starting with Assam in 1981. Then it was Punjab, then all the other places. I missed you in Gujarat.

Yes, you missed me in Gujarat.

I managed to escape, or grew out of, my reporting years, but you have somehow stayed on the frontline.

Yes, it is strange. Perhaps it is the troubled character of the place.

But why did you come to Raipur? It’s a difficult situation, the Prime Minister has described it as the greatest security threat. And we are talking so soon after this massacre—one of your camps has been attacked by the Naxalites.

It is a bad incident, a very bad incident. But in situations like these, bad incidents do happen. Innocent people are killed. It is different when police die, security forces die. But it is very depressing when villagers do.

Can you tell me something about what happened?

In this incident, no exact report will ever come out, because it happened at night.

And so far away, and mythologies will be built around it.

Totally isolated area. And at night even to trained observers, things look different. So people say there were 600, or a thousand Naxalites, but I don’t think there could have been that many. But they did attack, and they did kill people in a very brutal manner. And there are some doubts being cast on the police and the security forces…

Of cowardice? Or a lack of the will to fight?

I wouldn’t say either. Probably there were some defects in deployment of forces, or improper planning. Because whatever happens in one part of the country, the police and the security forces don’t draw any lesson from it. Every police has to go through its own learning curve. The Chhattisgarh police are doing that. They’ve lost men, they’ve lost quite a number of SPOs…

Which is Special Police Officers?

Yes.

Because if you look at the local media, it seems a woman SPO was very brutally killed, maybe even gangraped.

That was very unfortunate. I can only say that we have to climb that ladder for success whose rungs are failures. We should learn from this and improve on it and I think we can.

But this is a setback?

It should not be seen as a setback, but as a lesson which has to be analysed properly. Analysed, not to pin fault—we are an inquiry-riddled nation, we want to inquire into everything…

You’ve had your fair share of them.

Yes. But what has happened has happened. The loss of life is regrettable, the brutality of the attack is regrettable, but we have to move on.

Are you shaken by this? Is the government, the police force shaken?

I think everyone is very, very upset and concerned over this. They wish this had not taken place, but everybody wants now to see that it is not repeated.

Does this police force has it in itself? What’s your role in the police force and in the state?

My role is mainly advisory. Advice can be offered. Whether it’s accepted or not is a different matter. But the police force in India is highly resilient and they have risen to the task in the past. I’m sure this police force can do it too.

If you look at the statistics, more uniformed men have been killed by Naxalites than by terrorists in Kashmir. And when I say uniformed men killed by Naxalites, they are almost all policemen.

In J&K, the main security task is performed by the Army. The rest are just auxillary forces. Or certain Army battalions are converted into an auxillary force.

Like the Rashtriya Rifles. What I am saying is that the violence carried out by Naxalites has exceeded that carried out by the jihadi terror network today. At least, the damage they are inflicting is greater now. Is that a point that is adequately understood in Delhi?

I think the Prime Minister’s statement was an acknowledgement of that.

And did that statement make any difference? Have you seen any difference in Delhi’s response since then?

Certainly. It’s made a difference in what is being said on the issue. Earlier, it was spoken of as just a few youngsters who’ve gone astray. And it’s made the Home Ministry sit up and take notice.

Which, going by its reputation, takes some doing.

Well, I leave that to you.

I didn’t know you could be so diplomatic.

We are on camera and we have…

Grown a bit older. (both laugh) What is your sense of the real strength of the Naxalites, in terms of weaponry, organisation, motivation?

Their strength lies in their ability to create a myth around themselves. Their strength, if it can be called a strength, is the brutality by which they kill. That has been their modus operandi since the time they started out in the ’70s. The message they convey to observers is ‘this is how we kill’. They spread terror.

It’s the Chinese saying: slaughter the chicken in public and you scare away the monkeys.

Yes. They terrorise those whom they are supposed to be representing, to be emancipating, so that they don’t help the state. And that’s why it is remarkable that these terrorised people, these unarmed people, have risen up against the Naxalite terror.

You are referring to the Salwa Judum, or what is called in Hindi Shanti Abhiyaan, Campaign for peace?

Yes. And it this willingness of ordinary people to stand up that will make the eventual difference.

What I find remarkable is that you’ve referred to brutality three times already. You have seen more brutality than most Indians. You’ve seen it in Assam, in Punjab, in Gujarat. For you to mark out some people as especially brutal is unusual. Are we missing something, or have you seen something that we don’t know?

See, if a person is killed by a bullet or stabbed or hit by a dow (a North Eastern machete), his death, you feel, is not so brutal. But if he’s killed by multiple injuries, a stone is picked up and he’s hit with it over and over, it seems brutal, prehistoric. It does not sit well with the conscience. This is what I have seen.

This attack, at least going by the local media reports, has involved a lot of torture. Bodies have been found. People have died of small cuts, of multiple small cuts all over the body.

Yes. It is part of Naxalite ideology, the strategy, that the manner of killing should frighten more than the killing itself.

In terms of the bad guys you’ve come across, where would you rank the Naxalites?

They are mainly an extortionist group rather than a political movement, and they extort money from tribals. The only thing that sets them apart, as I have said, is the brutality in which they act.

Mr Gill I know what has brought you here. It is a sense of mission that wherever there is a threat to India’s security you should be there, in whatever capacity.

Yeah, it’s been something like that.

Your critics say it is because you love violence.

It is because I hate violence. My biggest regret is that when I left Assam, I left it a peaceful state. Assam in 1983 was a peaceful state. Today it is not. Critics are hoping that in Punjab, terrorism should have recovered by now. But it has not. Because terrorism has ended there. In Assam, the state was brought back to peace but due to certain political miscalculations it has again plunged into violence.

Where do you rank ULFA in this pecking order of militant groups? Again in terms of strength, motivation…

ULFA is nothing at all. They are now going to sit and talk across the table, which unfortunately just gives some bureaucrats and ULFA leaders retirement benefits. They’ll talk now for 10 years, maybe in Geneva.

Retired or retiring?

Both.

(laughing) And there are those who never retire.

They’ll talk and it will go on. ULFA is a very non-serious organisation.

Even now?

Even now. It has never been a serious organisation.

Gill saab, tell me about one of the exciting parts of your life that I missed out on—Gujarat. Did you find the same problems there of complicity, interference, or lack of courage on the part of professionals?

Look at Ahmedabad. If you look at the Gujarat riots, you’ll find that 90 per cent of the damage was caused by 8 or 9 incidents in all, and they happened within a small time span. What was difficult for everyone to swallow was what happened in Naroda Patia and the Housing society. You can understand complicity and kow-towing to the powers off and on. You can understand that for one hour, even two hours. But when it goes on for the whole day… The police is there but there is no response.

The mobs were coming like Chinese waves.

They were coming in waves and the people who were affected were constantly ringing up and there was no adequate response. All this cannot just be explained by political pressure. At some point of time you have to stand up and say enough is enough.

In this case the police officers?

Entirely the police officers. The law authorises them to shoot, not the political leaders. You can order an inquiry later on, but that’s a different matter. The police officer has to realise he’s not just an officer but also a human being with a conscience.

And a citizen.

And a citizen.

You’ve said you take your brief from the law of the land. You’ve said you’ve stretched your idea of the law in, say, Punjab. Did you ever face a situation in your days in Punjab where you weren’t able to sleep well? Did you think, what am I doing fighting my fellow Indians, fellow Sikhs, so many of whom were getting killed? That am I doing the right thing? Did you ever have a conscience issue?

You know, the only time I’ve slept badly in my life was in Gujarat. Just hearing the descriptions of what was happening. Never before, never after. Some of the things that happened there were horrible. If you have to maintain law and order you have to be even-handed. You have to apply it every minute.

Apply that test to Bombay. You have to be even-handed is a platitude. Apply that to Bombay.

In Bombay, no action when the Shiv Sena was vandalising everything.

You mean just a few days before the blast?

Yes. And then the combing operations! It took me years to get rid of that act from the police force. It is absolutely useless, absolutely…

Provocative?

Demeaning to anybody who has to go through it. I said go for the man who has done it, not—

The Bombay police have got it wrong there?

Entirely wrong. If that is the conception of security, then heaven help us, heaven help the country.

Well, Gill saab, all I can say is that I am seeing you after a long time but you haven’t lost any of your sharpness and any of your motivation so please keep it up, although I hope that the future battles are fought in the battlefield of hockey and not…

There we are already coming up as you can see in Azlan Shah. And I hope your paper is fine, as usual.

Next time, maybe in the hockey field with a trophy or a medal.

Ok, thank you very much.

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