Jandiala, India —Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, speaking from a bulletproof podium and ringed by submachine gun-toting commandoes, Monday appealed to rural Sikh voters to reject “terrorism” in Punjab.
Gandhi, making his first campaign swing through the troubled northern state, spoke at three rallies in support of ruling Congress party politicians facing a tough fight from the moderate Sikh Akali Dal party.
Sikhs are demanding a separate state in Punjab and government apprehends assassination of Gandhi. Consequently security at such rally was extremely tight.
The elections, which will bring back local government after two years of emergency rule by the central government, are scheduled for Sept. 25.
At the village of Jandiala, about 12 miles from the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion, Gandhi renewed accusations that Pakistan had sent “terrorists” into Punjab.
“A conspiracy was hatched across the border to prop up terrorism,” Gandhi charged.
“They sent persons with growing beards and long hair to weaken India,” Gandhi said, indicating that the Pakistani infiltrators were meant to look like Sikhs, whose religion forbids them to cut their hair or beards. Pakistan has consistently denied any association with the Sikh struggle in Punjab.
Six people have been killed so far this month in an apparent effort to disrupt the election campaign. More than 100 people have died in stray cases of violence this year.
At the election rallies, commandoes in black berets carried submachine guns as they stood guard from rooftops and specially erected towers near the bulletproof podiums where Gandhi spoke.
All those attending the rallies were searched and checked with metal detectors before being allowed through police barricades.
Markedly absent from Gandhi’s campaign in Punjab were reminders of his mother, the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated last Oct. 31 by gunmen. Her assassins said they were avenging the army storming of the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine.
On his second stop at the town of Ropar, Gandhi promised to make an agreement recently worked out
With assassinated Sikh leader Harchand Singh Longowal ‘“‘totally effective.”
Gandhi said opponents of the agreement, which provides for boundary changes and aims at settling demands for more local control over sensitive water rights, were behind the Aug. 20 assassination of Longowal.
Article extracted from this publication >> September 20, 1985