New Delhi — Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi Monday ordered eight

Sikh political leaders released from jail, including one imprisoned last June following the army’s assault on the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, the Golden Temple.

Indian Home Minister S. B. Chavan told a news conference the government had released eight Sikh political leaders arrested last June under India’s National Security Act.

Despite the Chavan said, “The government would like to make it clear that it will deal with any terrorist activity with a heavy hand.””

He said the government will confiscate property held by ‘nonresidents of Indian origin indulging in various seditious, terrorist and antinational activities, which threatens or disrupts the sovereignty, territorial integrity and the unity of India.”

It was the first major announcement on Gandhi’s plans for dealing with Sikh unrest, which he identified as his domestic priority after taking office upon the Oct. 31 assassination of his mother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, by two of her Sikh bodyguards.

Gandhi ordered the release of Harchand Singh Longowal, president of the Sikh’s powerful Akali party, jailed last June after the army attacked the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

 The government said the assault was necessary to oust militant Sikhs who were arming themselves in the shrine as part of their efforts for autonomy in the northern state of Punjab.

Less than five months later, Mrs. Gandhi was shot to death by her Sikh security guards.

The assassination sparked anti-Sikh riots that raged throughout India for nearly a week, leaving 2,987 people dead, official figures showed.

Gandhi’s announcement stirred some controversy because several prominent leaders of the Sikh party the Akali Dal including G. S. Tohra and former Punjab state chief minister Prakash Singh Badal, were not released. The spiritual head of the world’s 15 million Sikhs, Kirpal Singh, welcomed the decision as a “good step’’ toward meeting Sikh demands in northern Punjab state.

But the Sikh priest also called for release of other leaders and the lifting of the ban on the AllIndia Sikh Students Federation, which the government has branded a terrorist organization.


Article extracted from this publication >> March 15, 1985