India's Ruling Party Wins Control of Troubled Punjab

From Reuters

This country's Congress-I party won control of insurgency-torn Punjab on Thursday after the state's Sikh majority boycotted elections.

Congress-I was also expected to win 12 of Punjab's 13 seats in Parliament, giving Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao a working majority in New Delhi just in time to push through a controversial Indian budget.

Congress-I took 61 of the first 83 seats for the 117-seat state assembly decided in Wednesday's elections, which will restore Punjab to elected rule after five years of control by New Delhi-appointed bureaucrats. But the Congress victory could set back prospects for a solution to the decade-old Sikh separatist insurgency in Punjab.

"The Congress is not trusted in Punjab," said one senior bureaucrat in the state. "If they come to power, there's little hope of their receiving the support of the people."

Congress insiders have said they would have liked to let the Sikh Akali Dal party form the government and try to curb the violence by Sikh militants, who demand a separate homeland to be called Khalistan, Land of the Pure.

But a militant-ordered boycott meant that most factions of the Akali Dal stayed away, as did three in four of Punjab's 13 million voters. Most of those who did vote were Hindus, a minority in Punjab but an overwhelming majority in India.

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