New Delhi, India — Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi conceded Friday his Congress (I) Party suffered a crushing defeat in Punjab assembly elections, but claimed credit for preventing disruption of the polls.

“The Congress (I) may have lost the electoral battle but it has won the war for India’s unity and integrity. And that was the fundamental aim of the Congress (I),” Gandhi said in a prepared statement.

Gandhi said the large turnout of voters Wednesday in defiance of calls for a boycott and threats by Sikh radicals demanding an independent Punjab showed a majority of the state’s residents opposed “separatism.”

The prime minister, who succeeded his mother, Indira, after she was assassinated by two security men last year, also claimed the voters’ turnout demonstrated popular acceptance of his agreement to meet Sikh political and economic grievances.

“They have blessed the accord. Democracy has won,” he said.

Voters in India’s wealthiest state, weary of months of violence that claimed hundreds of lives, turned against the Congress (1) Party and handed the moderate Sikh Akali Dal party enough seats in the 117member Assembly for it to form a government without coalition partners for the first time ever.

With all the 115 assembly races declared two were postponed by the deaths of candidates the Sikh party won 73 seats and the Congress 32. Minor parties garnered 10, according to official results.

The Akali Dal also won seven of the 13 national Parliament seats. The Congress (I) Party took six.

The Sikh moderates will take control of Punjab from the New Delhi government, which has governed the northern state since dissolving the Congress (I) Assembly in 1983 when it failed to curb Sikh struggle.

In the state capital of Chandigarh, 170 miles north of New Delhi, acting Akali Dal President Surjit Singh Barnala was elected Thursday as the party’s legislative leader.

Barnala, 59, is to be sworn in as chief minister on Sunday.


The railthin, former attorney picked up the reins of the Akali party when its president, Harchand Singh Longowal, was assassinated Aug. 20 by gunmen angered by his decision to sign the “Punjab Accord” with Gandhi.

“We voted only for peace,” said 79yearold Baksheesh Singh, a resident of the rural town of Kharar, 12 miles from Chandigarh.

Giani Sahib Singh, head priest of the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, called the Akali Dal win an “historic victory” for the religion.

Article extracted from this publication >>  October 6, 1985