New Delhi, India — Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Congress Party’s star campaigner who was slain by Sikh bodyguards, has become a nonperson in the Congress electioneering in Sikh dominated Punjab.

The Congress Party’s election campaign will be launched this week in Punjab and the traditional electioneering photographs and eulogies of “Mother India” will be deliberately absent for the polling Sept. 25.

Political workers in Punjab and news reports in New Delhi said that emphasis on the late Mrs. Gandhi would only offend many Sikhs because she ordered the army to storm the Sikh’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, in June 1984.

More than 10,000 people, mostly Sikhs, were murdered in anti-Sikh rioting and carnage in north India after her assassination by two Sikh guards last Oct. 81. The Sikh community has not forgotten. During the national Parliamentary elections last December, her son successor Rajiv Gandhi capitalized on a sympathy vote and his party portrayed her as a martyr. Congress billboards showed a blood-spattered Mrs. Gandhi gunned down by Sikhs and many Sikhs considered the Congress campaign divisive and hurtful.

In Punjab, however, Hindu Sikh harmony is now the theme for the Congress and moderate Sikh Akali Dal party. Rajiv Gandhi will be projected as the savior of Punjab because of a recent peace accord with Sikh moderates. The campaign trail is a virtual armed camp of unprecedented security to deter violence.

Congress Party leaflets play on the insecurities of Sikhs and Hindus who suffered during more than three years of violence.


“If you want a bright future for Punjab, vote Congress,” say the leaflets. “Think of the future of your children if you want them to go to school and become doctors and engineers, vote Congress. For peace and prosperity, vote Congress.” More than 900 candidates are contesting for 117 state assembly seats and 13 parliamentary races in Punjab, the breadbasket state of 17 million people. It has 10 million Sikhs, 7 million Hindus and 10.7 million voters.

The Akali Dal moderate party never has won an absolute majority and Akali militants have called for a boycott, making the Sikh campaign difficult. The Congress Party, which wants moderate Sikhs in power, deliberately has put up weak candidates to help the Akalis.

Article extracted from this publication >>  September 13, 1985