New Delhi — Major political and administrative developments are expected to take place in Punjab sometime around the middle of March, soon after the assembly elections. These will be in addition to efforts to settle the Punjab problem.
The Prime Minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, is concerned not only over the tension and uncertain situation prevailing in Punjab but also about the worsening economy of the state.
Soon after the Army action in Punjab, the Central Government had appointed various committees to go _ into these matters and give a number of concessions to the people of Punjab. The committees set up for overhauling the administration have completed their task but not much could be done on the economic issue.
Punjab is at present facing a deficit of almost Rs 500 crore and the business and industry is on the verge of collapse. It may take almost another five years to bring it again at the same level provided the situation is normal.
Besides the efforts for a settlement with the Akalis, the Central leadership is making preparations to fight the Akalis at political level.
As a first step, the present Pradesh Congress (1) is likely to be completely overhauled. It may be headed by a more dynamic Sikh leader. Already a search is on to find a Sikh leader who should be neutral.
Along with this, there is a thinking to install a party ministry also, headed by a noncontroversial but a dynamic leader. The present term of the President’s rule in the state is up to October 5, when it will complete two years according to the amended Act.
A move is also afoot to hold elections in Punjab along with Assam, sometime in May or June. The present term of the Punjab Assembly expires in June. Elections to the Lok Sabha are still due both from Punjab and Assam.
The Prime Minister is believed to have given indications of his thinking on Punjab to some of his senior colleagues in the Government as well as at party level. Soon after the formation of new ministries in the states going to polls, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi wants to take up the Punjab problem on top priority basis.
On the question of a settlement with the Akalis, the Government is believed to be examining various alternatives. It has had some contact with the Akali Dal chief, Mr. Harchand Singh Longowal and the former Chief Minister, Mr. Parkash Singh Badal. But there has not been any direct contact with the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, President, Mr. Gurcharan Singh Toiira. The Government has not yet taken any decision on the question of releasing the top Akali leaders. However, if it decides to hold elections in Punjab, the Akali leaders are expected to be released much before that.
The Akali Dal is also expecting that soon after the March elections, the Government might release its senior party leaders and start a dialogue with them for a settlement. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Akali Dal office has issued a letter supposed to have been written by Mr. Longowal saying ‘that Bhindranwale had no connections with Pakistan. This, it seems, was meant more for the consumption of activists so that they do not adopt hostile posture towards Mr. Longowal after his release.
Inquiries made by ENS from government sources reveal that no such letter was sent by Mr. Longowal through any messenger. According to official sources, no outsider has met Mr. Longowal after his meeting with Mr. Bhan Singh and Mr. Abnashi Singh, a few weeks ago. And at that meeting also a police officer was present and their talks were recorded. Therefore, there was no occasion for any letter to go out from the jail.
Meanwhile, circles close to the Prime Minister have noted with concern the Akalis direct attack on Mr. Gandhi, and their effort to project him as the main person opposed to the Punjab solution.
People in the state are also hoping that soon after the assembly elections the Government would devote its attention to the Punjab problem. Reports from Punjab say that there is complete peace in the state except for some isolated incidents.
Article extracted from this publication >> March 8, 1985