Naxalism is not the single biggest threat to the country, home minister Shivraj Patil has said, a view that runs contrary to the assertion by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"I don't think so," Patil said in an interview to Karan Thapar's Devil's Advocate programme on CNN-IBN when asked whether naxalism was the 'single biggest security threat' to the country as has been stated by the Prime Minister.
Patil, while refusing to comment directly on the Prime Minister's assertion, contended that the scourge could not be termed as the single biggest threat as barring Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the situation on this front has improved in other states.
Dr Singh has been maintaining that naxalism poses the single biggest threat to the nation. To justify his argument, Patil cited statistics for the period 2003 to 2007 and said there was 70 per cent improvement in Andhra Pradesh and in Bihar too the position was better.
"But the two worst affected states are Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand," he said, adding that another state where the problem existed on a large scale was Orissa. The home minister said while in some states there was improvement, in others the situation had deteriorated. "But the sum total is not different," he said.
The home minister said there were various ways of looking at the naxal problem. If one said ten states were affected, it would mean 30 per cent of the country. If one went by 130 districts affected, it would mean 25 per cent. But if one took into account the number of police stations, it would give a picture of only three per cent, he explained.
Patil said some particular kind of statistics would create 'fear psychosis' in the country. He said the Centre had provided 37,000 paramilitary force personnel and officials for tackling the naxal problem and 17,000 personnel have been sent to Chhattisgarh alone.
He said the Centre will try to build a consensus among political parties before trying to carry out any constitutional changes to give itself special powers to handle naxalism.
"The government will not do it unless there is a consensus," Patil said. Asked if the Centre contemplated constitutional changes to take direct action against the naxalites, Patil said for deployment of forces in the states, the constitution has to be amended by two-third majority support in Parliament and backing from half of the state legislatures.
"I don't think the Bharatiya Janata Party will support it," he said. The home minister said the BJP's support had been sought 'not only once, but many times' at various meetings. While some leaders in that party say 'yes', others say 'no'.
He said the matter has been discussed on the floor of Parliament and added that the Government will not do anything unless there is a consensus.
On the steps being taken by the Centre to tackle the problem, Patil said the states have been asked to strengthen the police force and improve the police-population ratio.
The states have also been asked to train the police not only in maintaining law and order, but also in dealing with terrorism, he said.
The home minister said the Centre has been providing funds to the states to carry out police modernisation and purchase better equipment. Besides, funds were being given to the states to carry out development work in the affected areas and focus was being given on housing, education, medical facilities and employment guarantee, he added.