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Federalism scare in Maoism fight
- Consensus eludes PM’s joint plan

New Delhi, Dec. 20: “Federalism” is as perilous a minefield as Maoism, the Prime Minister proved today as he gingerly referred to the need for coordination among states to fight the “single biggest challenge” confronting the country.

Addressing a conference of chief ministers, Manmohan Singh cautioned the states that intelligence agencies had warned of intensified terrorist activities across the country, and that no one was fully immune from such attacks.

“Not a day passes without an incident of Left-wing extremism taking place somewhere or the other,” Singh said in tacit acknowledgement of the Maoists’ ability to strike at will in several states.

But the Prime Minister slipped the safety-catch on while referring to a tactical response to such extremism: joint operations and joint mechanisms for effective police operations.

As “federalism” is a touchy word though it also covers states’ autonomy, the Prime Minister steered clear of it. Instead, he suggested a “consultative mechanism” to decide case by case whether a “designated agency” should carry out the investigation.

“Investigation and prosecution of cases of terror having inter-state or international links need to be considered in a pragmatic manner. The proposition now appears to be that we are not talking about specifying any crimes as ‘federal crimes’ to be investigated by a federal agency. The suggestion is to set up a consultative mechanism,” he said.

Another suggestion was to have collaborative arrangements in the framework of concurrent jurisdiction. “I would urge you to consider these options seriously,” Singh told the chief ministers. The need for such an arrangement had arisen with extremists able to network across states and international boundaries.

The Prime Minister’s suggestion on concurrent jurisdiction evoked a mixed reaction from chief ministers with some rejecting it and others agreeing with riders.

“While some agreed voluntarily, a few fell in line reluctantly. The other view was totally against and some section of chief ministers agreed, provided it did not infringe on the states’ autonomy or alter the Constitution,” home minister Shivraj Patil said later.

“We will submit a plan to the states under which some crimes can be investigated directly by a central agency,” he added.

Patil said the Centre would set up a special force to “choke and cripple” Left-wing extremists. Some states also agreed to set up a task force modelled on the Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh.

The Prime Minister grudgingly conceded that the Maoists had succeeded in widening their reach. “Although the notions of a Red Corridor from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh are exaggerated, we have to admit that they have achieved some degree of success in enlarging their areas of militancy.”

He added: “They are targeting vital economic infrastructure so as to cripple transport and logistic capabilities and also slow down any development activity. This helps them sustain their ideology of deprivation and neglect.”

Perhaps keeping in mind the earlier statements of his friend from Bengal, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, that Maoists had fomented trouble in Nandigram, Singh said: “In some states, they have also got involved in local struggles relating to land and other rights.”

Singh iterated Left-wing extremism was still the single biggest challenge and asserted that “we cannot rest in peace until we have eliminated the virus”.

Singh asked the chief ministers to modernise police forces and fill vacancies. “Inadequate, ill-equipped, ill-trained, poorly-motivated personnel cannot take on Naxalite extremists who are increasingly getting better equipped and organised,” he said.

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