29/05/2017 12:10 PM IST | Updated 24/09/2018 6:54 PM IST

Beer, Sridevi And Counter-Terrorism: An Evening With KPS Gill

The Punjab supercop will never be forgotten.

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I remember KPS Gill, the Punjab supercop who passed away in Delhi on Friday of kidney failure and heart disease at 82, visiting Bombay in January 1994. He was at that time the Director General of Punjab Police. And if he died at 82, he must have been 58 then. Which I thought was retirement age. But enterprising chief ministers in Assam, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh successfully sought Gill's policing expertise and dynamic leadership to tackle violence, insurgency and terrorism in their states long after that. As did the beleaguered Sri Lankan government at the height of the bloody Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) movement in that troubled country.

Gill cut an impressive figure, even majestic. He was tall, almost painfully thin, and slightly stooped, the fierce granite-like face framed in silver grey whiskers and beard. I think Amitabh Bachchan borrowed his look for his film Major Saab in 1998. The Rotary Club in Bombay had declared him its 'Man of Destiny' and was felicitating Gill in the city. Not to be outdone, the Punjabi actors of Bollywood led by Dara Singh called him their 'Hero of Heroes' and had a boisterous and starry reception for the distinguished policeman at a suburban five star hotel.

Whatever happens, we do not go in for cosmetics. Instructions are: find out the killer, run him down, if possible arrest him, or kill him! KPS Gill

Gill was put up at the Taj. And he was giving interviews there. He was savvy with the ways of the media and had the Joint Director (Films & Police) of the Punjab government's Public Relations Department fixing these interviews. This fellow, a flamboyant Sardarji by the name of B. I. S. Chahal, had all the heartiness of a happy Punjabi. Gill's suite was guarded by commandoes of the Punjab Police. He was credited with rooting out militancy in Punjab and was on the death list of the dreaded Khalistani terrorists. He sat inside, stylishly dressed in a black suit and pink turban, intelligently engaging Bombay's journos in a spirited discussion on a wide range of subjects that interested him.

He was sophisticated, articulate, and had quiet manners. Mr. Chahal was ebullient. At 5 o'clock in the evening, he insisted on serving beer or whisky as refreshments. Somebody pointed out that it was too early and the day was still bright. Mr. Chahal would not be denied. He energetically sprang to his feet and pulled the drapes. "Now it is dark, you can drink!" he said, dramatically sealing the argument. And beer was served. Gill did not seem to mind. He sat comfortably drinking from a big tankard. It left him with a frothy beer moustache after every sip that he carefully wiped with a large hand.

It appeared he was looking forward to the Bollywood party at night. Somebody asked him who his favourite Hindi film actress was. After careful consideration, Gill surprisingly replied, "Sridevi!" Later he explained, "I know only the old actresses. But if I mentioned some of them, the journalists would probably not know who I am talking about. At the same time, I could not name any young actresses because I do not know them. I said Sridevi because I had seen some of her films recently and knew her name." I don't know how Sridevi must have taken this. She was then only 31. And Gill had innocently put her between the old forgotten actresses of yesteryears and the young starlets who were just making their debuts in Bollywood. But later, the newspapers reported that the tough-as-nails supercop was a fan of Sridevi. I don't know how Gill took that, too.

I never discontinued anything that Mr. [Julio] Ribeiro had done. I just added to it, built on it, but his was the basis. KPS Gill

Terrorism, of course, was the main question of the evening. Gill forcefully said the 'Supercop' title was not his alone. He handsomely shared it with former Bombay Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro who was the Director General of Punjab Police before him. "I never discontinued anything that Mr. Ribeiro had done," he said. "I just added to it, built on it, but his was the basis." Terrorism was no longer active in the state. "But a gang in the terai in UP recently decided to come back and visit us. We dealt with them effectively," he said. "Whatever happens, we do not go in for cosmetics. Instructions are: find out the killer, run him down, if possible arrest him, or kill him!"

Mr. Chahal then collared the story enthusiastically. "You should see Punjab now, business is bursting, the economy is exploding, the pent up energy of the people of Punjab is coming out," he declared. Gill was more constructive. "There has been a change of heart among the people," he admitted, "the Sikhs are outgoing, friendly, modernistic in their outlook, that's why the fundamentalists did not succeed in Punjab. The people are fed up with terrorism and violence, they want to live in peace. They have realised that all this is interfering with the state's progress and their own. Punjab is absolutely safe now. You should come and see for yourself. We can arrange a trip for you."

That was the cue for the jovial and eager Mr. Chahal to takeover the proceedings again. He immediately began to make plans and take down names. "Come next week," he said cheerfully, "come to Delhi, we will send a Punjab Police helicopter to pick you up." But K. P. S. Gill, with a dreamy look on his craggy face, said quietly and more reasonably, "It is winter in Punjab, it will be too cold now, come at the time of Baisakhi." Now there are no more Baisakhis left for the Punjab supercop to celebrate. RIP.

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