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Posted at: Oct 13, 2019, 7:54 AM; last updated: Oct 13, 2019, 8:40 AM (IST)

Winning hearts, minds, surviving assassination bid

Julio Ribeiro
Julio Ribeiro
Chief Minister Barnala told me that the police stations across the state were kept closed at night! The terrorists ruled the streets at night and the police troubled common law-abiding citizens during the day! He wanted me to change the equations in favour of the common man
Winning hearts, minds, surviving assassination bid
Boosting morale: Every policeman in state ‘swore to do his duty to protect the innocent’.

Julio Ribeiro

The first district I was given charge of on my promotion to the senior scale of the IPS was Parbhani in the Marathwada area of Maharashtra. I was there for 18 months before I was shifted to the adjoining bigger district of Nanded, home to Sachkhand Hazur Sahib. The 10th and last Guru of the Sikhs was martyred near Nanded. The gurdwara built on that sacred soil has been a centre of pilgrimage for the devout for generations.

As my wife and I detrained at the Nanded railway station, we were met not only by the senior police officers of the district HQ, but also by a delegation of local Sikhs from the gurdwara. They insisted that we visit the shrine first and pay homage to Guru Granth Sahib before assuming charge of the district’s police. Believing as I do in the importance of religion, I readily agreed. I was ceremoniously received and due honours were accorded as per custom.

That this ceremony was not repeated in Amritsar when I first visited that city was not surprising. The relations between the Golden Temple authorities and the police had soured ever since Bhindranwale had appeared on the scene. After Operation Bluestar, whatever bonhomie remained ceased to exist!

I had called on Surjit Singh Barnala, the Chief Minister, soon after assuming charge. He told me that the police stations across the state were kept closed at night! The terrorists ruled the streets at night and the police troubled common law-abiding citizens during the day! He wanted me to change the equations in favour of the common man.

I began visiting outlying police stations across the state, asking the policemen, who were predominantly Jat Sikhs, if they were afraid of the terrorists, who were after all our own people who had gone astray and were indulging in wanton killings of their innocent brethren in order to spread terror. Jat Sikhs, I said, were known to take up the cudgels for those who were being victimised. To a man, they swore to do their duty to protect the innocent.

I visited many villages in the interiors, summoned neighbouring sarpanches and elders to come and hear what I had to say. And what I said, I repeated at every village meeting — the Sikhs were brave men who unsheathed their kirpans to defend their country and its people whereas the terrorists killed the unarmed, which is something a true follower of Guru Gobind Singh would never do!

Recalling events of October 3, 1986

My visits to villages and my straight-talk must have angered the terrorist think tank because on October 3, the terrorists made their first attempt to assassinate me. A jeep painted in police colours with a fake Inspector seated beside the ‘Constable’ driver and a ‘Head Constable’ and three ‘Constables’ in police uniform sitting in the body of the jeep approached the locked gate of the PAC headquarters in Jalandhar when I was staying there overnight in the Officers’ Mess. They asked for entry, which was given as the jeep and its occupants were considered kosher! A butt salute was given to the ‘Inspector’ by the sentry!

The jeep drove up to the mess at 7 am when my wife and I were on our daily constitutional within the compound. The Punjab Armed Constabulary guards patrolling the outer walls were shot at point-blank range. The miscreants mounted their SLRs over the wall of the mess and opened fire at me. I ducked and pretended to be dead. After discharging 49 rounds (we counted the empties), they drove off. The entire facade of the mess was, well, a mess! I received a grazing wound on my left arm, whereas my wife suffered a bullet wound through her calf, without touching the bone.

Against the advice of my officers, I visited the PAC Lines in the camp. I pointed out to the men present that the terrorists were not Sikhs as Sikhism does not allow its followers to kill innocent people, which was what the terrorists were doing. On the other hand, I was commanding a force of which more than 90 per cent were Jat Sikhs. These men were aware of my orders to deal with the miscreants as per the law of the land.

On October 2, a day earlier, someone had hidden in the branches of a tree overlooking Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi in Delhi. Rajiv Gandhi was slated to come to pay respects to the Mahatma on the anniversary of his birthday. Rajiv summoned me to his residence office. It was decided that my personal security should be entrusted to an intelligent and responsible IPS officer and not left to an ASI or Head Constable.

And that was how Avinder Singh Brar, then on deputation to the Central Intelligence Bureau, was reverted to the state to organise my security. Avinder’s wife Sukhdip was an IAS officer of the Rajasthan cadre. She, too, was seconded for duty in Punjab.

Next week: Brar, a remarkable officer


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