|Saturday, 16 February , 2008, 18:07|
New Delhi: A day after 14 people were killed by Maoist rebels in a major offensive in Orissa, Home Minister Shivraj Patil Saturday denied that leftwing extremism was the single biggest security challenge to the country.
"I don't think it (Maoist violence) so. Now, don't ask me to comment on my colleagues or what the prime minister said. You asked me for my opinion and I will give you my opinion," Patil told CNN-IBN's "Devil's Advocate" in an interview.
Patil's statement flies in the face of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's repeated assertions in many forums that Maoists posed the single biggest security challenge to India and even exhorted chief ministers at a recent conference to cripple their rebellion with all means at their command.
"Not a day passes without an incident of leftwing extremism taking place somewhere or the other. There also seems to be a consolidation of various groups with better coordination and strike capabilities," Manmohan Singh told chief ministers at a conclave on internal security in December last year.
"I have said in the past that leftwing extremism is the single biggest security challenge to the Indian state. It continues to be so, and we cannot rest in peace till we have eliminated this virus," he said.
Fourteen people were killed and at least five injured after Maoists launched major offensives at Nayagarh and Daspatalla in Orissa on Friday night.
During the interview, Patil said there had been an overall improvement in states affected by Left extremism except for Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.
"Let us not create a fear psychosis. We are here to understand the problem and find a solution," he said.
Referring to the surge in violence in both Chhattisgarh, the epicentre of Maoist violence, and Jharkhand, Patil said the non-availability of infrastructure and the terrain were factors responsible for the increased attacks.
"We (union government) are doing whatever possible to help states affected by this violence. Almost 37,000 policemen have been detailed by the centre and deployed in Naxalite (Maoist) affected states. In Chhattisgarh alone, we have provided 17,000 men," said Patil.
Patil also revealed that the government wanted to make constitutional changes to give itself special powers to handle Maoist violence, but the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party as well as other parties refused to accept such amendments.
Although the number of violent incidents blamed on the Maoists fell from 1,509 in 2006 to 1,285 until Oct 31, 2007, the number of security personnel killed by them rose from 157 last year to 188 until the end of October 2007.