I have not called this press conference to express my grief at AS Sandhu’s death. My feelings on this count are between his family and myself. What I have to say today is that we have already given up most of this country to criminals, to corrupt politicians, and to unscrupulous lobbyists who will work with any cause that serves their personal ends, whether criminal, political or secessionist.
Nonetheless, in a country dominated by those who prefer to criticise from the safety of their homes, or the comfort of air-conditioned debating societies at Delhi and Chandigarh, there are still a handful of people who are willing to risk everything including their lives and the lives of their family to protect the unity and integrity of their nation, and the lives of citizen’s terrorised by an utterly unprincipled and merciless enemy. I can say without reservation that AS Sandhu was one such man.
Tarn Taran, at the height of terrorism was sometimes spoken of as the rocket that would propel Punjab out of the Indian Union. The terrorists influence was absolute; for years, it was virtually out of the control of the civil administration, and even the police had no more than a nominal and symbolic presence there.
It was in such a situation that I was looking for an officer who had the courage to mount an effective campaign against militancy in this militant heartland. I spoke to several officers, and each excelled in the invention of ingenious excuses to avoid the responsibility. When I asked Sandhu if he was willing to go to Tan Taran to put down terrorism, he accepted without hesitation. Some will say that he went there to exploit and enjoy the “power of the state”. But the state, when Sandhu went to Tan Taran, had no power there. I know that he was a hair’s breadth away from death throughout his tenure in the district. I know he never compromised. And yet, he achieved everything I could hope for.
Few, today, understand the significance of what happened in Tan Taran. Had we lost control over the district, Punjab’s secession would have become an inevitability. Had we lost Punjab, Kashmir would certainly have followed. And once this process of fission began, every linguistic, ethnic and cultural group would have raised the standard of revolt. Pakistan would have been celebrating this 50th year of its independence through the realisation of its dream of a balkanised India. Delhi and its “think tanks” would have no hinterland to analyse and exploit. The unending supplies of electricity, food, water, and a cornucopia of goods that keep Delhi’s elite in a state of luxury would have come to an abrupt end. And the Government and the Apex court of the land would probably have presided over a jurisdiction from “Delhi to Palam”. Judges may have still continued to write erudite and exquisitely worded judgements. But they would have no relevance for this country. This country, as we know it, would no longer have existed. The fact that this scenario appears incredible today is testimony to the achievements of men like Sandhu.
All men are heroes in a time of peace. But those who are heading the self-righteous witch hunt against the officers and men of Punjab police today should ask themselves where they were hiding for 10 years when terrorists roamed free, unchallenged by any but the Punjab police and their comrades in uniform from other services – and a handful of courageous farmers who would not succumb to terror? For 10 years the judiciary remained in a state of unmitigated paralysis in Punjab. Where was their commitment to justice then? For 10 years, the press published on the terrorists’ diktat- with only a single exception that all of you know of. That is a long vacation for the ‘truth’.
I am not here to defend corrupt or venal policemen. But the distortion and manipulation of legal process that is being resorted to by an utterly compromised ‘human rights’ lobby cannot be supported. This lobby understands the nuts and bolts of the judicial engine, and knows every method of the orchestration of the media and the new tyranny of trial by the press. A police officer can effectively fight their designs only if he has a great deal of money to buy the best legal advice in the country – and only the corrupt have that kind of money.
A sustained campaign was carried out by the Human Rights lobby against A.S. Sandhu on the Goebbelsian Doctrine that an untruth repeated endlessly becomes the truth. He was supposed to have made a lot of money.
I do not, despite these circumstances, justify the action of a proud Jat Sikh committing suicide. But I understand the reasons. This is not the action of a coward unable to face the dangers of life. Sandhu faced more dangers during his tenure at Tan Taran than many brave men could in several life-times. It was not fear that drove him to death. I do not think that the man knew the meaning of the word – it was ingratitude.
It is not, of course surprising that having lost the battle for Khalistan through force of arms, the terrorists and their front men should have exploited the human rights angle to target men like Sandhu. What is unforgivable is that the nation he fought to defend, the people who he risked his life to protect, simply turned away in indifference or joined the crescendo against him, when such a plot was engineered; without checking the merits of evidence, without even giving him the opportunity of a fair trial.
The Indian state must start educating itself on how it is to tackle individuals and groups trying to destroy the State. And it must learn how to arm and protect those who put their lives at stake in the defence of India’s unity and integrity.
We are not far from the edge of the abyss. Let this nation beware of the hour when no man will risk his life to protect another or to defend the nation, Josh Malihabadi once wrote, “Buzdilon ke ishq mein, shaida mujhe kyon kar kiya. Is namard desh mein paida mujhe kyon kar kiya”. When men of courage begin to say this, all hope will die. No people who treat their heroes as we have done can expect to survive.
K P S Gill