Moderate Punjab Government Asks for More Federal Troops
AMRITSAR, India (AP) _ The Punjab state government has asked federal authorities to send more than 6,000 additional troops for an expected confrontation with radical Sikh youths later this month, a police official said today.
The radicals, many of whom are demanding autonomy for Punjab, shut down most road traffic throughout the state Friday with a daylong road blockade.
Three people were killed and dozens injured in related violence, and most roads were virtually deserted as people stayed home for fear of retaliation by the radicals.
The protest was the first major radical challenge to the Punjab’s moderate Sikh government elected Sept. 25.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s government rushed 45 companies, or 6,030 troops, of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force to Punjab on the eve of the blockade.
On Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, the militants plan to begin work to demolish and rebuild a sacred Sikh building they claim was ″polluted″ when the Indian army attacked it in 1984 to rout out radicals holed up inside.
The main Sikh religious council, which is aligned with politically moderate Sikhs, said it will ″actively oppose″ the radicals’ plan and ″even seek the assistance of security forces to stop them from carrying out their program.″
Harinder Singh Kahlon, acting chief of the extremist All-India Sikh Students Federation, told The Associated Press today, ″We will face police batons and bullets but we will not cancel our Jan. 26 program.″
A senior police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said Punjab authorities have asked for an additional 46 Central Reserve Police Force companies, to bring total security forces in the state to more than 81,000 by Jan. 26.
The radicals plan to rebuild the four-story marble Akal Takht, a place of confession, penance and baptism for Sikhs, a religious sect whose members make up only 2 percent of India’s 750 million population.
The Akal Takht is located inside the sprawling Golden Temple complex, Sikhdom’s holiest shrine. The building was used as a hideout by armed Sikh extremists led by preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and was attacked by the Indian army in June 1984.
Bhindranwale, still considered by the radicals to be their guru, died in his bunker inside the Akal Takht.
Both moderates and militants claim government-sponsored repairs of the Akal Takht last year ″polluted″ it. The main Sikh religious council called a Jan. 27 meeting to begin demolishing and rebuilding the Akal Takht with voluntary labor, but the radicals said they would begin work a day earlier and would not allow moderates to participate.
Kahlon said, ″We will demolish each and every brick used by the government in the reconstruction of the Akal Takht.″
Police have arrested more than 700 activists of the student federation in the past three days and also are hunting for Kahlon under a preventative detention law. Kahlon has given several interviews since going underground early this month.
The student federation staged the road blockade to demand the government release its top leaders and hundreds of other youths arrested under controversial anti-terrorist laws.
It also wants the government to reinstate Sikh soldiers who rebelled in protest of the Golden Temple assault. A total of 1,200 Sikhs and soldiers reportedly died in the assault.