Two Sikh gunmen on a motorscooter assassinated a Punjab politician Wednesday, and supporters of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi stormed out of the state assembly to protest praise for slain extremists.
In the first attack since the moderate Sikh Akali Dal party won state elections two weeks ago, the gunmen shot Ram Lubbaya, 50, a leader of Gandhi’s Congress-I party, in Tarn Taran, 15 miles from the Sikh holy city of Amritsar.
In Chandigarh, capital of the northern state, angry Congress-I supporters walked out of the assembly when Akali Dal Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala read out an obituary notice praising people killed over the last three years in Punjab.
Barnala described as martyrs those killed during an Akali Dal campaign for political autonomy, and about 1,000 Sikhs who died in the army assault on Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, in June last year.
But Barnala also paid tribute to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who ordered the Golden Temple attack and was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards last Oct. 31.
“Some of her policies attracted some criticism, but she withstood the criticism and followed her policies resolutely,” Barnala said.
The Congress-I with 32 members is the main opposition group in the 117-seat Punjab assembly. The Akali Dal won 73 seats in the Sept. 25 polls.
Earlier, the new Akali Dal government said in a major policy statement that it would show no quarter to extremists.
“Punjab shall ever remain an integral part of India,” said the statement, read out to the state assembly by Punjab Governor Arjun Singh. The statement said the Punjab peace pact signed by the Akali Dal and Gandhi last July was the key to solving outstanding Sikh demands for greater state autonomy.
Punjab has been the focus of a three-year guerrilla campaign to set up an independent Sikh nation that Sikh militants call Khalistan.