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Surjit Barnala’s Minister of State for Home Kanwaljit Singh was the first to use the term State Terrorism after visiting the Batala area in June and meeting 220 sullen Sikh villagers. Revenue Minister Major Singh Uboke dismissed the massive ‘Operation Mand’ launched amidst fanfare to smash Khalistan sympathising groups and militants as being ‘Operation Fraud’ or ‘Operation Pakhand’ (charade). The Mand was a natural habitat alongside the River Beas. He contended at a Cabinet meeting that ‘innocent Sikhs and even women’ were being harassed and tortured barbarically by the security forces. This resulted in Barnala’s subsequent unsavoury meeting with Ribeiro who refused to relent. Uboke legitimately asked ‘Is he (Ribeiro) superior to Barnala’s government?’. Obviously yes. ‘This is Police Raj’ lamented Uboke. Police Chief Ribeiro assigned “Operation Mand” to the new IG of the CRPF in Punjab, KPS Gill.
The date of the operation was set for July 1986. The police expected many Sikhs to come to the Mand during the local festival for Baba Dargahi Shah. This festival was attended by people of all faiths. The Mand was a marshy, forested area that the police could not access, so the CRPF and Punjab Police were deployed in the thousands to surround the area. Ribeiro was certain that because of the cordon, Sikhs could not escape. The operation was also aimed at catching the well-known Sant-Sipahi Bhai Avtar Singh Brahma. But still, the problem remained that the security forces could not go in en masse and they were too afraid to go in small groups in case Bhai Avtar Singh Brahma was present. The solution chosen was to send in army helicopters to seek and kill any Sikh fighters.
CRPF men climbed aboard two helicopters and began to search for Bhai Brahma’s hideout. The helicopters began to hover lower to the ground and below them were Jathedar Durga Singh and his men. The Singhs opened fire on the helicopter with such force and volume that it crashed in flames into the marsh. The pilot and all the CRPF men were killed on impact. The Singhs shouted jaikaray and trained their sights on the next helicopter. The pilot had seen what had happened to his companion and decided his mission was impossible. After trying to avoid fire for a short while, he decided to go back to base. Of all the forces surrounding the area, no one had the courage to enter and attempt to rescue the men who had gone down with the helicopter.
As night fell, the Singhs, who were familiar with the area, made their escape. The CRPF and Punjab Police had been completely frustrated and to avoid embarrassment, harrassed local villagers and arrested farmers who lived around the Mand and claimed Brahma’s men had been captured. The next day’s newspapers carried a statement from the CRPF that one of their helicopters had collided with a tall tree and crashed, resulting in the death of the pilot and the men aboard.
Years later, Ribeiro in his autobiography, “Bullet for Bullet” (1998) wrote, “KPS Gill had been inducted as IG, CRPF, in charge of Punjab operations. He was an excellent operations man and it was he who conceived and planned the Mand operation. We faced some criticism from the press since not a single terrorist was caught in the operation” (pg. 283).