NEW DELHI, March 8, Reuter: The Chief Minister of Punjab, Surjit Singh Barnala, called on ordinary people today to involve themselves in the fight against “violence and antinational forces who are out to break the country”.
Barnala, recently excommunicated by the hardliners who now control the Sikh religion in Punjab, was speaking one day after a gun battle at Sikhdom’s holiest shrine, which sharply raised tensions in the northern state.
Harrinder Singh, acting President of the Punjab Sikhs’ Temple Management Committee, angrily denounced yesterday’s intrusion by armed police into the Golden Temple in Amritsar, saying they should first have sought the cooperation of the temple authorities.
Militant Sikhs in the temple complex shot dead one policeman and wounded four others as the Officers tried to rescue an off duty colleague alleged to have been imprisoned and tortured by the militants, seven of whom were detained.
Barnala, addressing an All-party rally in Ludhiana, said the Sikhs’ leaders were politically motivated, and their actions, including his own excommunication, were intended to bring down his government.
The President of one faction of the Sikhs’ Akali Dal party, Jathedar Rachpal Singh, who was excommunicated along with Barnala, told another meeting: “We respect the Akal Takht (Spiritual Authorities) but we refuse to bow before traitors”.
The Punjab Home (Interior) Ministry issued a statement giving its version of yesterday’s events. It read’ in part: “Police Constable Devinderjit Singh went to the Golden Temple Complex to pay his obeisance there. He was caught hold by cerain violent elements and’takento room number 47, Around noon a religious leader (name not disclosed) came out of the Complex and’ informed the police that a policeman was being tortured in room 47”. “Therefore, a party of six police personnel in civilian clothes and unarmed went inside the Complex to rescue the Constable. Just when the party opened the door of the room they were fired upon. Four of them received bullet injuries, two of them were seriously wounded. The other two rushed out of the Complex to seek help.
“Later police and C.RP.F. entered the Complex and brought out the wounded policemen and also Devinderjit Singh.
“Head Constable Sukhdev Singh and Constable Lakhvir singh were admitted to hospital in a critical condition but shortly after wards Sukhdev Singh died. “The situation in Amritsar city is now normal”.
The Temple Committee President disputed his version and accused the police of “extreme high
“If police had information about any untoward happening in the Temple they should have first sought help of the Temple authorities”, he said in a statement.
A C.R.P.F. Constable was killed in Punjab today, allegedly by freedom fighters. But despite fears of retaliation for the Temple raid, there were no reports of any upsurge of violence.
The five Head Priests who have in recent months been given control of Punjab Sikhdom have not denounced violence nor openly supported it.
Today’s All-party rally was called to demonstrate grassroots support for Barnala, who is pinning his hopes on implementation of a 1985 Accord with New Delhi giving greater regional powers to Punjab.
Article extracted from this publication >> March 13, 1987