India continues Assam election despite massacre
The government of India pushed ahead with more balloting in the beleaguered state of Assam Monday, although protests against the ''election at gunpoint'' poured in to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from nearly all of India's 22 states.
Army troops moved into the region Saturday to protect Sunday balloting as a week of voting - which saw the worse election violence in India's history - drew to a close. A thousand Bengalis were feared massacred by tribal groups over the weekend in the Nowgong district, and Indian officials confirm that at least 300 died in the Nellie area.
''I can hardly find words to describe the tragedy,'' Mrs. Gandhi said Monday as she visited a Moslem relief camp in the Nellie area of Assam.
The prime minister had insisted that Assam voting be held, despite an announced boycott by the All-Assam Students and 10 other mostly professional organizations, to avert a constitutional crisis. Assam was placed under ''president's rule'' in March 1982 during a siege of violence, and rule from Delhi cannot exceed one year unless a state of national emergency is declared. Yet some analysts estimate that fewer than 20 percent of voters may have gone to the polls to elect a state legislature and 12 parliament members.
Asked if violence could have been avoided if elections had called off, Mrs. Gandhi told reporters: ''This is not the first incident. It has been happening here since 1980.''
And asked if her administration would accept moral responsibility for the massacre, she said: ''Why should we? It is the agitators who are responsible. They may not like the elections, but do they have the right to stop them?''
Violence and bomb attacks were reported Monday in the capital of Gauhati, and polling in 11 of the state's 24 constituencies had to be postponed due to rapidly spreading anarchy. There were reports that the balloting may be held Tuesday. Originally, voting had been scheduled to end Saturday.
Besides the weekend massacre, more than 500 persons were believed to have been killed in a 17-day campaign before voting began.
Behind the violence is Assam citizens' anger that some 4 million ''foreigners ,'' mostly from neighboring Bangladesh, were inscribed on the oil-rich region's voting lists.
Besides their effort to ensure safe voting, troops have also taken over Assam's rich oil fields. But production in the state has come to a standstill, as two of its three refineries have now gone on strike in sympathy with those boycotting the poll.