Sikh Party Dissidents Say They Expelled Moderate
AMRITSAR, India (AP) _ In a new move to oust Surjit Singh Barnala as chief minister of troubled Punjab state, dissidents in his Akali Dal political party voted Sunday to expel him from the Sikh party.
Harban Singh Ghuman announced the move after a meeting in Amritsar that he said was attended by 319 of the party’s 435 delegates. Until 10 days ago, Ghuman was a vice president of Barnala’s moderate wing of the party.
Barnala told a news conference in the state capital at Chandigarh that the meeting had no legal basis because it was not called through proper party channels, United News of India reported.
″My party is intact, and there are no desertions,″ UNI quoted him as saying.
Barnala has been battling a fight by Sikh militants to remove him from office and rebuild the Akali Dal party with more radical leanings. Sikh extremists fighting for a separate Sikh homeland in the northern state of Punjab have been blamed for attacks that killed 130 people so far this year.
On Feb. 11, Sikh high priests excommunicated Barnala because he refused to resign as government chief minister.
As an excommunicated Sikh, Barnala in theory cannot head the religious party, but he has continued in the post.
Indian newspapers said militants want to oust Barnala to force Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi into declaring federal rule in Punjab, a move that could increase disaffection among Sikhs.
Sikhs, whose religion is an offshoot of Hinduism, are a majority in Punjab but make up only 2 percent of India’s overall population of 780 million.