NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's government put troubled Punjab state under federal control Monday in the wake of increased violence by Sikh separatists who have killed more than 330 people this year, a government spokesman announced.
Paramilitary troops were moved into the northern state to prevent a violent backlash to the announcement and other security forces were put on alert, the United News of India news agency reported.
The announcement of federal control was made Monday night by chief government spokesman Ramohan Rao at a news conference after a two-hour Cabinet meeting led by Gandhi.
"The takeover by the president of the state administration follows deterioration of the law-and-order situation in the state," Rao said.
"Citizens have been stricken with fear by the atrocities of the terrorists, and there has been migration from the state."
Calls for Takeover
The decision puts Punjab's 55,000 state police and paramilitary forces under control of the federal government. It followed increased calls for a federal takeover of Punjab and for the ouster of the state's chief minister, Surjit Singh Barnala, a moderate Sikh who critics said was ineffective at stemming the violence.
Rao described Barnala's government as "incapable of maintaining law and order" and repeated earlier claims that some of the state's Cabinet members appeared to be aiding Sikh militants.
Although the Barnala Cabinet was dismissed, the state's Assembly will be kept "under animated suspension" pending further decisions by the federal government, Rao said. He did not elaborate.
It was the second time the federal government has ordered that the state be ruled from New Delhi since Sikh extremists began their bloody campaign in 1983 to turn Punjab into the independent nation of Khalistan.
The action was seen as a setback for Gandhi, who had tried to work through moderate Sikhs to end five years of violence in the state, where Sikh militants are fighting for an independent nation.
Sikhs comprise about 52% of Punjab's population but make up only 2% of the nation's population of 780 million.
President Zail Singh, himself a Sikh, signed the proclamation declaring so-called President's Rule to take control of Punjab.
Barnala's Akali Dal Party won control of Punjab in elections in September, 1985, made possible by an accord signed by Gandhi and Sikh moderates in 1984 that ended a previous President's Rule that lasted two years.
Earlier Monday, the Sikh extremist said to have planned the killing of Punjab leader Harchand Singh Longowal two years ago was shot dead by police, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Jarnail Singh Halwara, a prime suspect in the assassination of Longowal, was killed near Sangrur in southern Punjab with an accomplice named as Darshan Singh.
Longowal, as president of the Akali Dal Party, reached agreement with Gandhi in 1985 to end the agitation that brought about an army attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhdom's holiest shrine, in June, 1984. He was assassinated less than a month later.