Hussaini wala — Rajiv Gandhi, making his first trip as prime minister to the troubled Punjab, announced a package of measures on Saturday to rejuvenate the state.

Punjab has been battered in recent years by a Sikh campaign for greater autonomy.

Gandhi conceded that a resolution of the three-year Punjab crisis was not in sight despite the recent release of eight Sikh imprisoned leaders and the appointment of a new state governor.

“Today we see problems in Punjab, a lot of difficulties,’ the 40yearold leader told nearly 10,000 people at a heavily guarded public meeting at this border town, 170 miles northwest of New Delhi.

But Gandhi told a public gathering he would not discuss Punjab’s political strife.

The army has been in control of Punjab since June last when it stormed the Golden Temple, the Sikh’s most reverend shrine. Close to 6,000 were killed, according to reliable sources.

The prime minister announced that to boost agricultural and industrial production, his government would build soon a giant dam and an hydroelectric project on the banks of Ravi River near Punjab’s border with Pakistan.

Gandhi said his government would answer the Sikhs’ ‘complaint that

There is no big factory in Punjab” by building a large railroad car manufacturing complex in the state.

He said he already has increased government supports for wheat and introduced a plan to insure farmers against crop failure. The Punjab, which was the heart of the “Green Revolution” which helped make India self-sufficient in food, has suffered agriculturally in recent years.

Gandhi also said he was setting up a government council for the protection of Punjab culture. Many Sikhs have expressed fears that they are losing their religious and cultural identity.

Wearing a bullet proof vest, Gandhi arrived by helicopter to inaugurate a memorial to three Indian Freedom Fighters, S. Bhagat Singh and his two companions, were cremated at Hussainiwala after their execution by the British colonial government.

During a speech, Gandhi made no mention of Sikh demands for the release of thousands of Sikh youths and the withdrawal of army troops from Punjab.

Most of India’s 14 million Sikhs live in the Punjab, where they form a slight majority.

Prem Singh Lalpura, a top Sikh leader, earlier told the Press in an interview that ‘until the jail doors open, there can be no talks with New Delhi.”

Article extracted from this publication >>  March 29, 1985