New Delhi, India: Thousands of mourners attended the funeral Thursday of a slain political ally of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and investigators widened their search for his killers to the Sikh homeland of Punjab.
Lalit Maken, a union leader and ruling Congress Party Member of Parliament, and his wife, Geetanjali, were shot to death as they left their home Wednesday by two young men who pumped 15 bullets into the 34yearold politician’s body.
A friend of Maken’s was also killed in the shooting.
More than 25,000 people the largest crowd to attend a funeral in the capital since Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s cremation last fall lined the 4mile procession route as the bodies of Maken and his wife were carried to a cremation ground.
At one point, mourners attempting to climb onto the raised funeral pyre clashed with riot helmeted police, who pushed them back with wooden clubs.
Labor union members, angry that Maken’s bodyguard had been removed, shouted “Down with the police” as they shoved officers trying to hold back the crowd.
Parliament adjourned Thursday morning so members could attend the funeral.
The prime minister and several Cabinet officials and legislators placed flowers on the victims’ bodies as they lay in state outside the couple’s home before the cremation.
Police widened their search for the killers, sending investigators to several states including the northern state of Punjab, where Sikhs are waging a campaign to win an independent homeland.
Authorities Thursday had not established a motive for the attack. But Maken has been named as one of the leaders of anti-Sikh rioting that broke out in India after Gandhi’s assassination in October by two of her Sikh bodyguards.
The politician had also received several threatening letters, which prompted police to assign him a bodyguard, but the guard was removed July 24 after a routine police review determined the security was no longer necessary. Home Minister S.B. Chaven told Parliament Maken received a threatening letter four days before his death, but it was not given to police until the day of his killing.
Police questioned six suspects Thursday and found the motor scooter used by the gunmen in their escape after the shooting. But no arrests had been made.
In a bid to prevent more violence after the shootings, the army was placed on alert and paramilitary police were deployed in areas where the anti-Sikh rioting erupted. But no serious violence was reported in the capital Thursday.
Maken, elected to Parliament in December 1984, was named in a report published by two leading human rights groups as an organizer of the November anti-Sikh rioting, which left more than 10,000 people dead in New Delhi.
Maken’s party colleagues blamed the report for triggering the assassination.
Gandhi and moderate Sikhs last week signed an agreement aimed at ending four years of unrest in Punjab. But Sikhs generally rejected the pact and vowed to continue their campaign.
Article extracted from this publication >> August 9, 1985