When he was shifted to Punjab, his one apparent quality was his dashing personality. A tall Jatt Sikh accustomed to heavy drinking is not unusual for Punjabis but he would be the first to reach the spot of an encounter (fake or genuine) in the morning. K.P.S. Gill was the Supercop who restored legitimacy of the instruments of the state that had become irrelevant. He combined political tools with police methods to win the war in competitive terrorism. However, the supercop ended up as a villain.
He used structured violence to outcompete violence by non-state actors. However, his own actions came under scrutiny by the very people whom he had made relevant. After they became relevant, these very players sent the hero back to the barracks. The low profile O.P. Sharma, who succeeded him but was the intelligence chief before that, claimed while leaving the state that the operations were planned by him while Gill was only the public face. He was on the record.
However, the fact of the matter is that when all organs of the state including judiciary had become irrelevant, he was the man who commanded the police from the front to protect these organs. He came on the scene as Inspector General of Police during Operation Blackthunder II in the Golden Temple complex.
What is little known is that he was involved in Punjab operations much before that as he was part of the team along with then Governor Arjun Singh who crafted the Punjab Accord between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Shiromani Akali Dal President Sant Harchand Singh Longowal in July, 1985. He had opened channels with the militant leaders Bhai Manjit Singh and Harminder Singh Sandhu, then lodged in Jodhpur jail, beside some other leaders who were on the ground.
Gill took over in Punjab when the police stations, even on the highways, used to lock the iron gates around 4.00 pm and the roads would be deserted. The Tarn Taran area then in Amritsar district and the Jagraon area used to be described as ‘liberated territory’. Gill taught Punjab cops how to fight back. In the process, he created a team that was as brutal as the militants but loyal to him personally. As a field commander, he was perhaps the best.
His final assault on militants was after Beant Singh became the Chief Minister in Punjab heading a Congress government in the election that was boycotted by the mainstream Akali Dal. The political tool that he mixed with the police methods was manoeuvring the Akalis into boycott. His political strategy was to build consensus against terrorism through the Congress. Both Beant Singh and Gill became hate symbols in the process in a section of Punjabi society while both of them emerged as Heroes and ‘Saviours of the Nation’ at another level. Gill’s biggest failure was the assassination of Beant Singh in 1995 by a human bomb at the main entrance to the Punjab Civil Secretariat. He was the state police chief at that time.
He went to the extent of brutalising the state police to confront brutalities by the militants, the strategy that came to be questioned. The state acts under the constitution. When state actors abdicate constitutional methods, the actions come under question. But then this has been happening everywhere, from North-East to Kashmir, in the tribal belt from West Bengal to Maharashtra.
Punjab turned into cremation ground for bodies that were unidentified and that was mainly during his two tenures. Jaswant Singh Khalra, who worked on these cremations, was taken away in broad day light from his residence in Amritsar. He just disappeared. The Supreme Court finally awarded compensation to the families of more than 2000 such victims whose bodies were cremated as unidentified. This was the official admission of fake encounters and extra-judicial killings in Punjab. It was Gill who implemented this strategy in the perception of the Sikhs.
The Indian state never utilised his services once he retired as he had become irrelevant after a stage. He was a hero for one section of the population and villain for the other.
He was among the players associated with militancy in Punjab who, like Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, were loved and hated in equal measure.