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HomeThePrint InterviewHow to solve Chhattisgarh’s Maoist problem? Late supercop KPS Gill had answers

How to solve Chhattisgarh’s Maoist problem? Late supercop KPS Gill had answers

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Gill had said the state govt should deploy a greater concentration of forces, get the best D-G, build a road, and build quality townships for tribals.

For decades now, the Maoist insurgency has afflicted the so-called ‘Red Corridor’, consisting of districts spread across the states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Maharashtra.

Of these, Chhattisgarh is the worst-affected, with cases of Maoist violence against security forces and allegations of state brutality making the headlines every year.

Is a permanent solution possible? The late Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, the top cop credited with ending the Khalistani insurgency in Punjab, certainly thought so, and he had many pieces of advice for the government. The Chhattisgarh government even brought him on board as an advisor, but he said it didn’t really pay any heed to his advice.

Gill died in May 2017, but in his last interview, recorded just a few days before his passing, he repeated his advice to Shekhar Gupta, Editor in Chief, ThePrint, on NDTV’s ‘Walk The Talk’ programme. Here’s a full transcript:

SG: Hello and welcome to Walk The Talk. This is Shekhar Gupta inside a Lutyens residence. And my guest, how do I introduce him? I can read the CV of Mr K.P.S. Gill, besides other things—IG, law and order in Assam, DG CRP, DG Punjab Police, the man who then went and controlled the riots in Gujarat in 2002, the man who was once drafted but not quite drafted to train the Chhattisgarh Police to fight Naxalites. Or, in short, I can say one line: India’s crisis man for 35 years now.

Gill sahib, welcome to Walk The Talk. I am so happy you found the time.

KPS: Thank you, thank you very much.

SG: And I don’t have to say how young you are, you are among the most youthful of us all. Even though you joined the IPS in 1957, the year I was born, and I am not particularly a young person.

KPS: No, you are very young.

SG: Sir, how do you look at the state of the nation? The latest provocation which has sort of made me force you to give me this time is this disaster that we just had in Sukma, with the CRP jawans (25 personnel were killed in one of the worst Maoist attacks in years on 24 April 2017). You led the CRP, you were the DG CRP. You also went as advisor to the Chhattisgarh government at one point, and you felt strongly against these issues all your life.

KPS: This, of course, was bad planning, bad deployment, and I think then some fault also lies… those boys are dead! It is preventable.

SG: Right.

KPS: If they re-plan the deployment (on the road that is under construction)… I think this road has been under construction for 11 years. I had suggested the construction of the road.

SG: 11 years sir, you remember, we had recorded a Walk The Talk at the Chhattisgarh Armed Police headquarters in Raipur when you were there as advisor.

KPS: Yeah. So, nothing seems to have moved.

SG: You had suggested this road at that time?

KPS: The strange thing is when I held a meeting, there were some young officers, and I got the impression that money is a real (problem). When, later on, we discussed the same thing in Chhattisgarh, they said there is no money. I couldn’t follow as to what was happening.

SG: You mean money disappeared in the middle?

KPS: I mean, probably, the intention disappeared.

SG: Sir, the Chhattisgarh insurgency is unusual because for many years the state has suffered more losses than the Maoists. It has never happened in India’s history. Is this fight winnable in Bastar?

KPS: Oh, yes. You see, what has happened is, the area now under state control has increased. That cannot be denied. But the state is not able to project properly. And the Maoists are fighting back for survival. But the core is that you need more concentration of forces. You need officers who have experience in such situations. You will find them in the Indian police all over the place.

SG: They should be brought there?

KPS: Yes, they should be brought there.

SG: As in Punjab, you brought officers from everywhere.

KPS: Yes.

SG: You were brought from Assam cadre, you may be a Punjabi but you were brought from the Assam cadre. Even Sarbdeep (ex-Punjab and Maharashtra DGP Sarbdeep Singh Virk) is from Maharashtra cadre.

KPS: Yeah. The fight is winnable and it should not take the nation… what… the former Prime Minister had said that it is national problem. So, if it’s a national problem, then let the nation attend to it.

SG: Who will fight this? Will the CRP fight this, will Chhattisgarh Police fight it?

KPS: We have got a mechanism where it’s sort of joint command, because one thing which is very important for officers is who is writing your Annual Confidential Report? If it’s one… then they don’t know who is the other…

I will tell you what happened in Punjab. I will go to a battalion and find that everyone is absent. What’s happening? Oh! The DIG’s inspection has come. Where is that? Oh! He is at such and such place. They are having lunch and everyone would be lunching and this and that.

So, I talked to the D-G there. I said no one is to be allowed to come to Punjab without my permission. I said only when I say he should come, and no lunches and no dinner.

SG: This is for CRP?

KPS: Yes, with CRP. Well, I was jointly with the CRPF and the Punjab Police. They have worked out these systems, so why don’t they use them?

SG: So, it’s a regret that you were not sent to Kashmir after you had finished the job in Punjab?

KPS: Yes, it’s a regret.

SG: So, how would you finish the job in Chhattisgarh now? And is it possible to finish the job in one, two or three years?

KPS: Maximum three years.

SG: And what is needed to do that?

KPS: You see, the road, which is very vital, should be constructed, and the coordination of forces. You have always asked me how you have achieved the coordination of forces. We have never left a unit, let’s say… headquarters. You put an additional D-G there, so that he is constantly coordinating with the army.

SG: I see.

KPS: And then he is coordinating with the Punjab Police. There is always this coordination.

SG: So, they should build this road and secure it first of all.

KPS: Yeah. Then, whatever forces you have, they must have total and complete coordination. Then there is the question of intelligence. Intelligence is mostly through intervention.  I have seen some of the IB officers interrogating, they were magnificent. Old officers at various places, I have seen them.

SG: What methods did they use for interrogation?

KPS: They never used third degree.

SG: Never?

KPS: Never. No third degree. But they would be prepared with the background, with everything about the man, and persistently question. Although one person, this is in Shillong… So, the armory was raided, and the people who were caught were being interrogated by this team. It was Monday and I was in full uniform, I had just come from the parade. I went to the police station and that young khasi boy asked that man, ‘if I don’t tell you, then will he interrogate me’?

SG: If I don’t tell you then will Mr Gill interrogate me?

KPS: Yes! ‘Okay, then I will tell you’.

SG: Did you ever use third degree or beat anybody?


SG: One thing I can say is we never saw you carry a weapon.

KPS: I have never carried a weapon.

SG: So, you think they should bring back some of these skilled interrogators?

KPS: Yeah.

SG: Even if they are in retirement then they should be brought back from retirement?

KPS: That is very difficult. They will have to create a new cadre of them. You see the dangers which are in the job, once they are retirees…

SG: Sir, you were once invited to help Chhattisgarh Police fight Maoists and that was 11 years ago. Have we lost these 11 years in Chhattisgarh?

KPS: You see, some things they could not understand. For instance, I was telling them that you search for those types of persons in the constabulary and in the junior ranks who can react to situations. So instead of doing that, they had a written test.

SG: In Chhattisgarh Police?

KPS: Now, we know all about written tests.

SG: Yes.

KPS: And then they selected so-and-so. That’s the worst way to destroy the morale of the force.

SG: So, within the police they had the written test?

KPS: Within the police.

SG: To see their attitude?

KPS: No, I don’t know what the written test was about.

SG: If they were not going to listen to you, why did they take you there?

KPS: I have no idea, because after some months, the chief secretary said ‘you needn’t come, you just enjoy yourself for one year’. I said okay. But I went around Chhattisgarh. I have been all over the state, almost every area. Not one constable was seen on the road anywhere.

SG: Not one constable was seen on the road and the villages?

KPS: Anywhere.

SG: So sir, do you think the government invited you first? I believe you were in retirement in your beautiful home that you built in Vrindavan, which as you tell us is a long story that somebody from Chhattisgarh government came all the way to Vrindavan to invite you to come and help them fight Maoism, and once you reached there, they lost interest.

KPS: You see, when the Sri Lankan government called me, they were much more interested. I can’t say how many of my suggestions did they carry out. But before I left, I told them that look your airport, which has so many layers of security is very insecure.

SG: I see, in Colombo?

KPS: In Colombo. So, they didn’t let me do it, because it became a matter of interdepartmental egos. And a few days later, the airport was blown up. Because they didn’t visualise what was required to be done. So here also, in Chhattisgarh, I will give you a small example. I went to the Chief Minister and I told him that guard these Salwa Judum camps. Put a DIG in charge of security.

SG: All Salwa Judum camps, the DIG should be in charge of security?

KPS: Let him do nothing else but provide security in Salwa Judum camps. And he should also ensure that there is no excess and all.

SG: Right.

KPS: So, the D-G said no to that. I wasn’t there. He said the local police will do it. Next day, or the day after, there was an attack on the Salwa Judum camp and 60-70 people got killed. And the next day, the DIG was posted there.

SG: Do you think Salwa Judum was a bad idea or a good idea?

KPS: Very good idea.

SG: Very good idea? Why do you say so?

KPS: It should have been implemented properly. There should have been no excesses. I mean, how do people protect themselves when the state is unwilling to do it for them? We had a human rights conference in Chandigarh. Justice Iyer was there.

SG: Justice Krishna Iyer?

KPS: Justice Krishna Iyer, yes. We took him around and showed him the weapons we had seized. We showed him the photographs of the people who had been killed, of policemen who had been killed.

SG: In Punjab.

KPS: He was to spend 15 minutes, and (for) one and a half hours, he was going around. And I remember he said that if the state is not clever enough to protect itself, this is what happens.

SG: Who is more responsible for the continuing problem in Chhattisgarh? Is it some foreign hands? Is it activists? Is it mis-governance? Is it just the inability of the state government and the Chief Minister to fight?

KPS: It is very difficult to say so-and-so is responsible. Because when you are fighting this problem, then everyone should be involved in some way or the other. It cannot be left as a police problem or a mere security problem. It is a hundred and one things. Certain areas are absolutely royal. There is nothing happening and nothing has ever happened. Certain areas, especially this little area now remaining…

SG: The core area.

KPS: Core area. And containing the core area requires and effort of the whole government in a way which has not yet been done. So, who runs the government?

SG: The Chief Minister runs the government. You had some sense of the Chief Minister’s ability, although it was 11 years ago. Do you think he has it in his guts to handle this as, say, Beant Singh did in Punjab?

KPS: You see, Beant Singh never interfered with me. Never.

SG: Never.

KPS: I don’t think he is a man who can say that he will act on my behalf and do everything. I don’t think at the moment he is a man like that.

SG: He is a man like that? But do you also buy into the rumours or allegations that politicians are also mixed up with Maoists even of the ruling party?

KPS: In your constituency, if you have Maoists, you have to take them into consideration. That’s the reality of it. How do you… either they vote or they don’t vote. When the Akalis decided not to participate in the election, that was a reality. I’m told a telephone call came, and when they were having a meeting and they decided not to participate. But, in spite of that, Mr (Parkash Singh) Badal used to attend ceremonies of terrorists and give speeches where more terrorists will come. And, when we stopped it, they threatened to kill our constables and their families. They killed 69 people. A little space, as big as this room, was full of blood. Some hard decisions always had to be taken. Very, very hard decisions. And, there must be an overall plan.

At the moment, you’re working and they’re saying ‘this should be done, that should be done’, but what is your overall plan?

SG: What will be the hardest decision you would take in Chhattisgarh now?

KPS: A hard decision would be to, along with road-building and communications, the setting-up of townships. To which, you provide everything. Give them facilities equal to Raipur.

SG: So, ‘Salwa Judum-plus’, in a way.

KPS: Salwa Judum plus much more.

SG: Just set up new townships so that people can move there?

KPS: Yeah.

SG: But this idea that tribals have to live in forests, they live in the trees…

KPS: Tribals don’t want to live in forests. They want to live in cities. They are quite happy here.

SG: Sir, this kind of losses…you’ve been DG CRPF. Do you think CRPF is not tough enough to fight in these situations? Why are they taking these losses? 75 killed. 30 killed. 47 killed. Weapons lost…

KPS: You see, we had sent a battalion, which are called the India Reserve Battalion, to Andhra Pradesh. The jawans go there… when the Naxalites hit them, there was an explosion, but those boys kept on firing. Two or three boys. Not a single weapon was taken. So, I cannot understand how these weapons are taken away. But, one thing, we have no institutional history. Mr Dora, who was D-G Andhra, in a public meeting in Chhattisgarh, said he used to travel to Punjab to see what has happened, apply those…

SG: And that’s how Andhra defeated the Maoists.

KPS: Yes. But, we have no institutional history. We have so many experts.

SG: So if you met…if the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh met you again, what advice would you give?

KPS: I’ll advise him…get the best man in India as the D-G.

SG: It doesn’t matter which cadre?

KPS: It does not matter which cadre. And, give him a free hand. And, hold him accountable.

SG: And, insist with the central government that he should be in charge of the CRP units there also?

KPS: Yes.

SG: All units?

KPS: Yes. All units.

SG: What about the activists? Because there are much more than there were in Punjab.

KPS: Activists…when I went to Punjab the second time, the number was supposed to be 5,000. Activists…you have to make approaches of various types. That is the intention, people should do the work. And, it can be done actually. Because, it’s a false ideology. It cannot survive in any case.

SG: And, what will you tell the CRP D-G now? Because CRP is really taking casualties that no force should. It’s a new D-G now.

KPS: The CRP D-G needs to shorten the tenure of that battalion. Because as the tenure grows longer, the level of the performance comes down. Shorter tenure. And, constant training is an absolute must. Training and retraining. Check your weapons, bullets. I was in BSF when I was inspecting a place beyond Nowshera, a really cold place… Can you believe… this was in 1983-84, and the bullets were from 1944?

SG: So, sir, the state of the nation now. Are you worried about the state of India? Do you think India is much more secure than it used to be, because you spent a lifetime trying to make India more secure? Even if not going to Kashmir is a regret…

KPS: You see, my feeling is, whatever criticism is being doled out to Pandit Nehru…he had laid the foundations of an India that will become strong.

SG: So, let me repeat. You’re saying criticism may be laid at the door of Jawaharlal Nehru, but he laid the foundations of an India that will become strong.

KPS: We are slowly, stumblinglingly, and sometimes much too slowly, going towards that.

SG: So, before I let you go, do you have advice for Mr Modi? Because he’ll listen to you. Everybody listens to you. Even if we disagree sometimes, we listen to you.

KPS: My feeling is he needs to have rejig-type of meetings of particular areas of the country. Focussed. Northeast, Chhattisgarh, Kashmir. SYL (Satluj-Yamuna Link canal issue). SYL has to be settled.

SG: Otherwise, you’re not worried about the state of the nation

KPS: No, I’m not.

SG: Aapko yaad hai sir, jab…we had done that long story and a long interview in 1993-94. When Punjab…when terrorism was finally ending. You had quoted Iqbal to me. So, once again, before we let you go, I know you need to rest…

KPS: The whole thing is that… as Hari Chand Akhtar said:

Bharosa kis qadar hai tujhko Akhtar us ki rehmat par
Agar wo Shaikh-sahib ka khuda nikla to kya hoga.

SG: You also like to quote Iqbal on why India will stay together.

KPS: Aur Modi sahab 5-6 logon ke saath regional meetings karein. 20-30 aadmi baithe kuch nahi hoga. (And Modi sahab must have regional meetings with just 5-6 people, nothing will be achieved by 20-30 people sitting).

SG: Ek chhoti council, 4-5 logon ke saath. Aur action plan banayein (And make an action plan). Sir, I’m sure aapki baat sunenge (they’ll listen to you). And, thank you very much you found the time.

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