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Tumult in the Punjab

The tumult in India's Punjab is lamentable. Citizens of many countries are saddened by the killings, as the nation ruled by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi struggles to surmount its latest sectarian conflict.

The cause of the Sikhs, who are a majority of the Punjab population, can be debated - they seek greater religious and political independence. But the focus shifted from this message to the tactics employed in its pursuit, when extremist Sikhs wrested leadership of this cause from their moderate brethren. There were daily reports of violence between Sikhs and Hindus, and by extremist Sikhs against moderate Sikhs.

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Prime Minister Gandhi has been patient in her effort to end the violence - opposition party leaders say too patient. But when she moved in recent days it was in force: Indian troops surrounded the militants' headquarters, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and several dozen other Sikh shrines. At the same time the Gandhi government isolated the Punjab by cutting off telephone connections, expelling foreign journalists, and imposing censorship. Most recently the Indian Army has attacked the Amritsar stronghold with armored vehicles, with fatalities ensuing.

These government tactics can be questioned. But every nation must root out terrorism, and the situation in the Punjab was becoming extremely serious.

Once the military phase is over, the next demand will be for the Gandhi government to work to unify the nation. That may require Mrs. Gandhi to be more flexible than she has in the past toward meeting some of the Sikhs' demands. India needs the grain from the Punjab, the nation's granary. More important, the nation deserves to be freed from the strife and tensions between various religious factions that have dogged it since it gained independence in 1947.

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