New Delhi, India — Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, ignoring pleas of Sikh leaders and opposition politicians, said Friday elections in violence stricken Punjab next month will proceed as “the people’s answer to brute force.”
The independent Election Commission Thursday announced it had pushed back by three days to Sept. 25 the polls to fill the 117member state assembly and 13 national parliamentary seats. The move would allow Sikhs to observe last rites Sunday for a moderate Sikh leader assassinated Tuesday.
Moderate Sikh leaders and opposition politicians fear the elections will trigger a new wave of trouble and urged that they be postponed.
“A democratic election is the people’s answer to the brute force employed by a small election to impose their will on the masses,” Gandhi told Parliament, brushing aside fears heightened by Tuesday’s assassination of Harchand Singh Longowal, president of the Akali Dal.
“We shall serve as the instrument to enable the democratic process to triumph whatever the risk to ourselves,” Gandhi said. “As the custodian of the people’s will and mandate I am fully committed to this course.”
Longowal, who signed a pact with Gandhi last month designed to end Sikh struggle in Punjab, had joined a call by other Sikh leaders to delay voting until early 1986.
A report by the Tribune newspaper published in Punjab said, however, that most Akali Dal leaders now favored early polls which might bring them to power on a “sympathy wave” following Longowal’s death.
The elections — expected to be a battle between the ruling Congress I Party and the Akali Dal were to end two years of tumultuous federal rule in Punjab state.
But Gandhi told Parliament he was unconcerned about the outcome of the elections. “What matters is that the lamp of democracy is not extinguished. What does matter is that India wins,” Gandhi said.
In Amritsar, Inspector General K. P. S. Gill said authorities were probing reports of celebrations inside the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, the day after the assassination.
The Press Trust of India news agency said the government had ordered a probe into an apparent security lapse that allowed pistol waving Sikhs to gun down Longowal at the shrine.
Police arrested four people in connection with the shooting, including the two gunmen, the Press trust said. Police are searching for two others, including alleged ringleader Jarnail Singh.
In the past three years, Sikhs have been blamed for violence.
In June 1984 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered an army attack on the Golden Temple. Six thousand people were killed in the attack.
Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated on Oct. 31, 1984, by two of her bodyguards who were avenging the army invasion of the Golden Temple.
Article extracted from this publication >> August 30, 1985