Batala, India — Disruptionists set off a string of time bombs on the final day of the Punjab election campaign Monday, missing the former state Assembly speaker and three members of Parliament, but killing three children.
A Punjab state government spokesman said the militants also distributed small lunch boxes filled with explosives and “pencil like” containers filled with acid. He warned residents not to touch suspicious objects.
The bombings occurred in at least four districts across the state and broke a two-week lull in attacks in Punjab by those suspected to be fighting for independence. The deaths raised to 14 the number of people killed since the election campaign began in early September.
“The explosions are desperate acts to create a scare that will be repulsed by the public with the same determination as in the past,” the spokesman said.
He said “some” suspects had been arrested and identified the leader as Sukhdev Singh, a fugitive with an $8,000 reward on his head.
Police Chief Sukh Darshan Lekhi in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, 270 miles northwest of Delhi, said one suspect admitted the bombings were part of a drive to disrupt Wednesday’s election by blowing up the vehicles of candidates and their security escorts.
The suspect was arrested after he tried to plant a bomb under the car of Brij Bhustan Mehra, the former speaker of the state Assembly and a candidate of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s ruling Congress (I) Party.
The device went off prematurely and the would-be bomber was injured in the hand, Lekhi said.
A senior police official in Batala, 25 miles north of Amritsar, said another device exploded under the car of Congress (I) Party Members of Parliament Sheila Dikshit, Banwari Lal and Mohinder Partap Singh, who were in Punjab to observe the election.
The official, who asked not to be named, said Dikshit, Lal and Partap Singh were at lunch and were not injured.
But the blast left the car a blackened shell and shattered the windows of a hotel 20 yards away. It killed three girls, ages 7 and 8, as they played near the vehicle.
“T rushed out,” said hotel waiter Prakash Chand. “The car was on fire and the children’s skin was peeled off and blackened.”
The police official said, “Each time they use a new technique so people don’t know what to expect.”
The Press Trust of India said the blasts in other parts of Punjab damaged 13 campaign vehicles. 5; In New Delhi, Chief Election Commissioner R.K. Trivedi appealed to voters in Punjab to “vote fearlessly” despite the violence, saying they would get “all the protection they need.”
The government deployed more than 80,000 security men for the elections and assigned bodyguards to each of the 896 candidates.
The latest polls gave Congress a narrow lead over the Sikh political party, the Akali Dal, but pollsters warned that their information was based on interviews completed almost one month before the election date.
Punjab has been ruled by the central government since 1983 when the popularly elected state assembly was scrapped for failing to meet Sikh demands. The last state assembly elections in Punjab were held in 1980.