New Delhi, India — India announced Saturday that elections will be held Sept. 22 in violence played Punjab state, which has been ruled by the federal government since October 1983 in an effort to curb Sikh struggle for autonomy.
The state and parliamentary elections will allow the northern, predominantly Sikh state to govern itself for the first time in nearly two years.
The Election Commission’s announcement follows by less than a month of the signing of a peace pact between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Sikh political party, which aims at ending the campaign for Sikh autonomy in Punjab.
The Indian news media speculated Gandhi’s government would bow to pressure by opposition parties, including the Sikh’s Akali Dal, and postpone the elections until next year.
Akali Dal President Harchand Singh Longowal had argued that provisions of the recent accord should be implemented in the state before elections are held. These included the designation of the city of Chandigarh as the capital of Punjab.
Political observers, however, believed Longowal wanted more time to unify the disjointed Akali Dal and build grassroots support for a return to power in the state.
The Congress (1) Party won the last state assembly election in Punjab in 1980. The Akali Dal, in a coalition with the Janata Party, ruled the state for 2% years before it was dismissed by late Mrs. Indira Gandhi.
The Election Commission said “it hoped all sections of the people of Punjab would extend their cooperation in ensuring a peaceful and orderly election.”
Sikhs, who make up only 2 percent of the nation’s population of 750 million, are a 62 percent majority in Punjab.
Also Saturday, Assamese student leaders rejected a key provision of the 2dayold peace pact they signed with Gandhi to end a six year conflict in the eastern border state.
The students told a raucous news conference that while they welcomed the pact, they would not cooperate with the caretaker government provided for in the accord.
“We clearly mentioned (to Gandhi) that we would not cooperate with any caretaker ministry,” said Prafulla Mahanta, president of the All Assam Students Union, the leading opposition group for the past six years.
But he added that their refusal would not hinder implementation of the agreement.
The violent campaign against illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh sparked off the worst civil massacres in India since independence. More than 4,000 people were slaughtered in February March 1983, mostly Moslem Bengalis killed by Hindu Assamese.
Bangalis have crossed the border from Bangladesh over the years, competing with the native Assamese for jobs, land and political power.
Article extracted from this publication >> August 23, 1985