the inward eye

When humour saved the day

The then DIG, DS Mangat, pulled us out of a very difficult situation at Amritsar in 1978 with his timely wit. He was known for his phlegmatic sense of humour and his one-liners were always delivered with a very straight face

When humour saved the day

Gurbachan Jagat

It was the month of April in 1978 when a major clash had taken place on Baisakhi day in Amritsar. There was great tension in the city and surrounding areas; I had just joined as Senior Superintendent of Police there. There was an Akali government in the state headed by Mr Parkash Singh Badal. On April 14, virtually the whole of Punjab Cabinet and top police and civil administrators had gathered in Amritsar to deal with the emerging situation. The immediate concern was the maintenance of law and order situation in the city and also the cremation of those who had been killed on Baisakhi day. After deliberations at the highest level, it was decided that the cremation would be held near Gurdwara Shaheedan in Amritsar. The funeral procession was to start from Sri Harmandar Sahib and go past the Kotwali police station to reach the cremation ground. That morning, there was palpable tension in the air and an emotionally charged crowd was expected.

I had decided to camp at the Kotwali police station after having overseen the approach of the funeral procession towards the cremation ground. Dalbir Singh Mangat, who was then the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Jalandhar Range, was actively monitoring the situation. He arrived at the Kotwali police station and it was decided that I should go to the cremation ground.

In those days, police officers did not carry any gunmen, escorts, etc. As such, my driver and I were driving towards our destination. All of a sudden a man appeared from an alley and swung a naked sword at the windshield of our car and damaged it. The car stalled and I remember thumping the driver on the back, asking him to start the car before we could be attacked further. Fortunately, the car responded and we moved ahead. Police station ‘B’ was on the road itself just before the gurdwara. There was a big crowd and they were pelting the police station with stones. I left the car and got into the police station to help the men inside. There was only one entrance to the police station and we had locked it from inside. However, there were a couple of windows on either side of the door which the crowd was trying to damage.

Meanwhile, the then Inspector General of Punjab Police, BS Danewalia, also reached the police station and a major confrontation began between the aggressive crowd outside and the police personnel. We were trying to get reinforcements, but in those days there were no paramilitary forces in Punjab and we had to make do with our existing resources. One of the windows was completely damaged, but the steel bars were still in place. We were trying to keep the crowd away from this window in order to prevent them from breaking it completely. As this dingdong battle was going on, a Nihang Singh arrived on the scene with a long spear in his hand. He began to repeatedly thrust the spear through the window and accompanying every such attempt raising a slogan, “Raaj karega Khalsa” (Khalsa will rule). Every time he did this, we had to retreat from the window as we did not want to use lethal force against the Nihang and the crowd outside because emotions were riding high and any strict action on our part would have further aggravated the situation.

In the meantime, the procession carrying the bodies was fast approaching and we wanted to get out and reach the cremation ground to supervise the arrangements.

The Nihang Singh continued his attack and sloganeering. But at this juncture, the DIG moved up slowly towards the window and when the Nihang raised the slogan, Mr Mangat told him in Punjabi: “Nihang Singh ji, raaj taa Khalse da hi hai (Nihang Singh ji, it is the Khalsa who is ruling the state).” The DIG wanted to convey to him that there was an Akali government in the state and hence there was no need for the Nihang to make this demand. The Nihang came to a halt and we could literally see the wheels turning in his mind to understand the statement. Luckily for us, he replied to the DIG by saying: “Gal taa twadi theek hai (what you are saying is correct).” The Nihang left the place and so did most of the crowd outside.

Meanwhile, our enforcements also arrived and the situation was defused. The then DIG, DS Mangat, had pulled us out of a very difficult situation with his timely wit. He was also known for his phlegmatic sense of humour and his one-liners were always delivered with a very straight face. This was potentially a very serious situation and this dose of humour won the day for all of us.

— The writer is ex-chairman of UPSC & former Manipur Governor

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