Chandigarh: To say Sarbdeep Singh Virk, 72, a former Maharashtra and Punjab Director General of Police (DGP), had an eventful career as an IPS officer, would be an understatement.
The decorated officer received the Padma Shri in 1988 for his contribution in fighting militancy in Punjab, survived an assault rifle shot to his jaw, and took charge of Maharashtra Police months after 26/11 with the aim of equipping the force to handle terror attacks.
In 2007, towards the end of his career, Punjab Police slapped two cases against him, and suspended and arrested him. For 10 years, Virk fought multiple legal battles to clear his name in a bid to spend his retirement in peace.
But Friday saw Virk take up a new role as he joined the BJP months ahead of the 2022 Punjab assembly elections. He is, however, not going to enter the electoral race, Pradeep Virk, his advocate-son, told ThePrint Sunday.
“My father will not be contesting elections but hopes to use this platform to play a larger role in transforming Punjab, the need for which is being felt across the state,” Pradeep added.
Family of officers
Virk comes from a family of renowned zaildars — a landlord who headed the colonial-era administrative unit zail — in Sheikhupura (now in Pakistan). His father Kuldip Singh was an administrative officer in undivided Punjab.
After Partition, the Virk family settled in Jalandhar and got a bit of land in Dasuya. While Virk joined police, one of his brothers, Rajdeep Singh Virk, retired as a colonel in the Army, while the other, T.S. Virk, served the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Virk is a 1970-batch IPS officer of the Maharashtra cadre. When militancy was at its peak in Punjab in the wake of Operation Blue Star, he was posted on deputation in the troubled state. He joined Punjab Police in August 1984.
In 1986, Virk was posted as Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Deputy Inspector General (DIG) at Amritsar, a post created to control and monitor militant activity. The late veteran IPS officer K.P.S. Gill was then heading the CRPF in Punjab as IG, and Virk became a part of his core team.
Surviving a bullet injury
In early 1988, Virk, then the CRPF DIG, was inspecting his personnel’s position in the buildings around the Golden Temple, which at the time was teeming with militants.
When he noticed militants constructing battlements, he shouted to them to stop construction. The militants subsequently fired at him with an assault rifle, and the bullet shattered Virk’s jaw. He was rushed to hospital where he was operated upon.
This shooting is believed to be among the triggers for the 1988 Operation Black Thunder-II, which led to the flushing out of militants from the Golden Temple.
As for Virk, he had been baptised by fire and went on to hold key positions in the approximately 15 years of militancy that followed 1984, during which he escaped two more bids on his life.
He served as additional DGP Intelligence before taking over as DGP in February 2005. Captain Amarinder Singh was then serving his first term as CM (2002-2007).
As DGP, Virk was known to be soft-spoken and brave, and a subject of extreme popularity in his force.
Also Read: A bloody miscalculation called Blue Star
Friends turned foes
Sumedh Singh Saini, a 1982-batch IPS officer who served in Gill’s team with Virk, became very close friends with the latter.
When Virk took over as DGP, Saini was considered to be his blue-eyed officer. But the two fell out in August 2005.
That year, Saini arrested a journalist then working with The Indian Express for his alleged involvement in a rape case. Journalist organisations alleged that Saini had framed the journalist for writing against him.
In court, Virk said the “arrested journalist was not connected with the rape case at all”, reportedly leading to the end of their friendship.
In March 2007, when the Akali-BJP combine came to power, Saini was given the charge of the state vigilance bureau.
At the time, Virk, who had been transferred as DGP in January by the Election Commission, had sought repatriation to Maharashtra and was awaiting posting.
In April, a departmental inquiry was lodged against Virk for his alleged role in a case involving the sale of land owned by a war widow. He was suspended by Punjab even though he was already serving in Maharashtra.
In September 2007, Saini booked Virk in a vigilance bureau case for having allegedly amassed disproportionate assets. On 9 September, Virk was arrested by the bureau from Maharasthra Sadan in New Delhi.
This was the first time a DGP of the state had been arrested.
Virk claimed that he was being hounded by Saini and other officers for personal reasons and that he was not guilty of any of the allegations levelled against him.
As part of this case, Punjab Police also looked into Virk’s alleged “links” with ‘cats’ or militants-turned-informers. At this point, Virk made a revelation about ‘cats’, coming out in the open for the first time about a secret strategy that had been used to counter militancy.
He told mediapersons that using cats to catch militants was a “norm”. If using this strategy to counter insurgency was a crime, he added, other officers of Punjab needed to be probed too.
The year 2007 was the beginning of a 10-year battle marked with multiple legal cases. Pradeep, who had joined the IPS in 2006, left the service in light of the situation at home and fought his father’s cases.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)