All this transformation in Punjab was possible because at one particular moment, one man decided to stand up, convinced many others that they too had the ability to stand up, and drive out the extremists. This man was KPS Gill. Today is his birthday. Best wishes to him.
Almost three decades ago, the policies pursued by the Congress, had showered death and destruction on Punjab. Using that as an opportunity, a handful of people decided to enforce a religion of the book on the people of Punjab. They readily used gun violence against anyone and everyone who objected to such impositions. People called them ‘extremists’.
When the police caught such persons, the justices of Punjab quickly released them. Some in the name of the law, others because the justices were simply too scared to even give the law as an excuse to release extremists. These extremists resorted to the killing of thousands of people. Sometimes these were mass killings done openly. At others these were mass killings done surreptitiously by planting booby trapped bombs.
Thousands were also killed in the name of giving to them the punishment decreed by the extremists.
The Akalis, who till recently had been claiming for themselves the role of the leaders of the Sikhs, went silent and allowed the extremists to take centre stage.
Pakistan by now had become a basket case and a strong believer in another religion of the book. Pakistan provided extensive monetary and logistic support to the extremists in Punjab.
Much monetary help also came from Non-Resident Indians who were now rolling in money in western countries like America, Canada, Germany, Britain and Norway. Using the very lax laws of those lands, these extremists used the protection of the law of those lands to fund and encourage violence in Punjab.
In areas like Tarn Taran, every evening would bring tractor trolleys full of dead bodies to the local PHC for disposal. These were bodies of those who had been shot the previous night by the extremists. Often such killings were the consequence of men folk of a house objecting to the rape of their women or the looting of their belongings.
It was routine for the extremists to kill all the dogs in a locality to ensure that no one was warned about their nightly movements.
The government of India stood by helplessly all this while.
Then, KPS Gill was asked to head the police force and take Punjab back from the hands of the extremists. In a few months he was able to convince the people of Punjab that the police was capable of protecting them from the extremists.
In a few more months, with active help and support from the people, Gill was able to snatch Punjab back from the terrorists and impose the rule of the law once again.
Gill showed to the world that it was possible to contain a terrorist movement. By now, the political leadership too stopped playing around with religion as a tool to mobilise the people. The people of Punjab too realised the insidious role that NRIs had played in fomenting extremism.
Gradually many of the extremists too realised how misled they were by both, Pakistan and the NRIs. Many of the extremists joined the normal democratic political process. Many like Simranjit Singh Mann, a former police officer, continue to pursue the cause of imposing a religion based state on Punjab but, today Mann is not eager to pursue his cause through the barrel of a gun. He seeks alternate, more peaceful ways to convert people to his views.
All this transformation in Punjab was possible because at one particular moment, one man decided to stand up, convinced many others that they too had the ability to stand up, and drive out the extremists. This man was KPS Gill.
The Author, a Jawaharlal Nehru University alumnus, is a renowned historian.