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The Blood of Punjab


Time, May 23, 1988

Photo: Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (center), with armed entourage

The crackle of gunfire around the Golden Temple sounded chillingly familiar. More than 600 people died in 1984 when Indian forces stormed the holy shrine and wiped out extremists demanding independence for Sikhs in Punjab. Last week paramilitary troops besieged an estimated 70 Sikh terrorists who were again turning the temple into a fortress. After a Sikh gunman shot at police, Indian security forces returned fire and surrounded the complex. Weeklong gun battles left more than 30 dead.

Though the possibility of storming the temple was not ruled out, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi seemed hesitant. His mother and predecessor, Indira Gandhi, had ordered the move in 1984, and it resulted in her assassination by Sikhs. Yet the new standoff probably ended the Prime Minister's policy of appeasement. Since Gandhi freed 45 imprisoned Sikh militants two months ago, some 550 people have been killed in terrorist-related violence.