Two alleged Sikh terrorist attacks on Hindu civilians within 24 hours are increasing the pressures on Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi over his government's failure to bring peace to the strategic state of Punjab. It was reported yesterday that suspected Sikh terrorists shot at least eight Hindu bus passengers in Haryana State. The attack followed the killing Monday of 38 Hindus - including several women and children - by Sikhs in neighboring Punjab.
Although Mr. Gandhi said that Monday's ``inhuman'' incident would ``redouble our resolve to fight the extremists,'' he faces criticism of his policies on Punjab from national leaders and newspapers.
Gandhi has not faced a crisis of such range in Punjab since he succeeded his mother and predecessor, Indira Gandhi, in 1984. Analysts say that the situation in the Sikh-dominated state is worse than it was in June 1984 when Mrs. Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to storm the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, to root out armed extremists. It was that assault that Sikh bodyguards sought to avenge when they assasinated Mrs. Gandhi.
Monday's attack follows a resurgence in militant Sikh attacks in recent months, including the killing of Hindus in New Delhi and Sikhs suspected of collaborating with the government. After Gandhi imposed direct federal rule in Punjab in May, Sikh violence declined.
Some observers said the new surge of attacks in northern India may be aimed at relieving police pressure on underground Sikh militants in the districts bordering Pakistan. Punjab security forces launched a major antiterrorist offensive following the imposition of direct federal rule, killing dozens of alleged militants.
The bus massacres are expected to increase political pressure on Gandhi to adopt a tougher strategy to fight the militants. Several political groups have demanded deployment of the Army in the three troubled border districts of the Punjab and cutting off alleged rebel supply lines from Pakistan.
``The terrorists must and can be fought to the finish,'' says Sikh historian and author Khushwant Singh. ``There must be no dialogue with terrorists until they put down their guns and ask for it.''
Girilal Jain, the chief editor of the Times of India newspaper contends that Punjab ``has been brought to the brink of precipice'' by Gandhi's failure to adopt an uncompromisingly tough antiterrorist policy.
However, it is widely acknowledged that the current security offensive alone cannot solve the problem of terrorism. A long-term resolution of the conflict would require a political settlement.
Gandhi appears to understand this. He sent a respected religious leader to the Golden Temple recently for secret discussions with the Darshan Singh, the top Sikh high priest, on arranging negotiations between the militants and the government.
Darshan Singh, who was appointed a high priest by the militants early this year, has come out openly in favor of a political settlement, saying that the Punjab crisis ``cannot be resolved with guns, but only through negotiations with the government.'' His stand has been attacked by some extremist leaders. And disunity in the ranks of both Sikh militants and moderates diminish the possibility of an early political settlement.
Meanwhile, yesterday, the government sounded a ``red alert'' across northern India to prevent further attacks. In New Delhi, public assembly was banned and Army troops were posted at police stations to deter a Hindu backlash against the Sikh minority.