Terror threatens economic gains of Indian state


Globe and Mail
April 4, 1984

New York Times Service
AMRITSAR, India — There have never been more than about 500 of them, the authorities say. Most are in their late teens or early 20s. Most are religious mili­tants. Some are ordinary crimi­nals who have simply seized an opportunity. A few are old-line Maoist revolutionaries whose main movement in India was crushed more than a decade ago.

But as compact as it is, this tiny band of Sikh terrorists has sown such fear and caused such insta­bility in the state of Punjab in the past six weeks that it threatens to halt or even reverse the economic progress that has made Punjab a model of Third World industrial development.
policemen, editors, Hindu leaders, even other Sikhs, and shoot them. Then they fade away into the vil­lages and towns, finding sanctu­ary in one of the hundreds of Sikh temples that dot the flat, green Punjabi landscape.

Operating typically in pairs on motorcycles at night, the terror­ists seek out Government officials, The Government does not follow them into the temples for fear of outraging the religious sensibili­ties of Sikhs at large. Few villag­ers have dared to turn them in. To some Sikh farmers they have become legend: holy warriors, divinely protected from capture, fighting for a centuries-old vision of Sikh identity, integrity and independence.

At the same time, many more of India's 14 million Sikhs worry about the damage that the terror­ist campaign may be doing to their standing with the Hindu majority, and to their reputation as India's most enterprising group.

"The Sikhs are feeling damned hurt," said Bhagwant Singh Ahu­ja, an Amritsar textile manufac­turer and a Sikh, "because the majority community is condemn­ing all the Sikhs. But it's just a handful of people creating the situ­ation."

Many Sikhs say they are fed up with it all, and in the past two weeks the Government has cracked down on the terrorists again. It has outlawed a Sikh stu­dent organization believed to be behind much of the terrorism, arresting many of its members and driving others underground. But despite Government assur­ances that the situation is being brought under control, the killings continue.

More than 100 people have been killed since the terror reached a peak in mid-February, and more than 300 since 1982.

As the seat of India's Green Revolution, Punjab has become this country's great economic success story. The Green Revolu­tion, carried out almost exclusive­ly by Sikh farmers, made the state India's wealthiest, and at the same time its main granary. There is little sign that this agri­cultural success is about to be undone.

However, Punjab's agricultural­ly induced prosperity has made it an increasingly commercial and industrial state as well, and it is this second stage of development that is being threatened by the violence.

The state's economy is estimat­ed to have lost $1.2-billion in the fiscal year that ended March 31 as a result of the state's instability. More fundamentally, however, the terror is choking off the flow of outside capital on which Punjabi industrial development depends. Hindu entrepreneurs, afraid of becoming targets, are fleeing the state. The development of a high-technology industrial park 40 kilo­metres from Amritsar has been stopped.

"It is the beginning of the disin­tegration of Punjab's economy," columnist Prom Shankar Jha wrote in The Times of India re­cently.

There is a deep irony in this, because one of the grievances underlying the agitation involves Sikh fears that Punjabi economic growth is being hobbled by Gov­ernment policy.

Many Sikhs believe the Govern­ment is discriminating against them economically by manipulat­ing wheat prices and discouraging the establishment of new industry in Punjab so that poorer areas of the country can have it.

Some Sikhs are particularly bitter because of their belief that the Government-owned banks in
Punjab are investing Punjabis' savings in industry elsewhere in the country.

"That's the sweat of the soil they're sending out of the state," Mr. Ahuja said.

All of this has been overshad­owed by the terrorist activity. So have the original demands for greater Punjabi political autono­my that set off the agitation by the Akali Dal, an out-of-power Sikh political party, in August, 1982.

The Sikh movement, which orig­inally used Gandhian tactics of non-violence, was gradually usurped by the more radical ele­ments identified with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a fundamen­talist Sikh holy man who preached violence from his sanctuary in Amritsar's Golden Temple. Asso­ciated with Mr. Bhindranwale is the banned All-India Sikh Students Federation.

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