Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said on Sunday that the most striking feature of the day-long Chief Ministers’ conference on internal security was that all the States and the Union Territories, irrespective of political parties ruling there, responded in a spirit of unity.

“There was not a single discordant note. It is an achievement of sorts. The spirit of unity showed by the Chief Ministers, the Lt. Governors and the administrators of all 35 States and Union Territories is a big message to those who challenge India’s internal security,” he told reporters after the conference.

Mr. Chidambaram said there was no new ideology in the Home Ministry, and it was the same as in UPA I. “The ideology of secular, non-discriminatory, pro-human rights and [it] favours strong measures to be taken to counter any threat to India’s internal security.”

On the vacancies in the State police forces, he said that by March 31 this year, 1.03 lakh recruitments would have made, but another 1.50 lakh vacancies needed to be filled. “It is a tall order, but not impossible. Gujarat has assured zero vacancy by this March-end. I am sure all vacancies will be wiped out if not by September this year, then by March 2011.”

“We must be vigilant”

Earlier, in his opening statement at the conference, Mr. Chidambaram said there had been no significant terrorist attack or communal violence in the past 14 months. This was a matter of satisfaction, but that did not mean that the country was not vulnerable to terror strikes. “We must remain vigilant. We must continue the work on enhancing capacity. And we must reform our institutions and systems of governance to pre-empt terrorist threats and prevent communal discord.”

Thanking Bangladesh for its cooperation with India, he said many leaders of the north-eastern insurgent groups based in that country were forced to return to India and either surrendered or were apprehended by security forces. “Our determined effort to curb insurgency and violence has had a salutary effect, and many insurgent groups have laid down arms and come forward to hold talks with the State government concerned and the Centre.”

Describing naxalism as a grave threat, Mr. Chidambaram said the Centre had announced that it would encourage the State governments to talk to naxalites if they abjured violence, but the offer was spurned by the CPI (Maoist). “Hence, in consultation with the Chief Ministers of the naxal-affected States, we decided to boldly confront the challenge thrown UP by the CPI (Maoist).”

He said that during 2009, there was a rise in the number of deaths among civilians (591), security forces (317) and militants (217) in the naxal-affected states. “As the security forces move forward to reclaim areas now dominated by the naxalites, it is possible that this trend will continue in 2010, too. However, I am confident that the State governments concerned will gradually gain the upper hand and re-establish the authority of civil administration.”

Mr. Chidambaram urged the State governments to ensure that re-establishment of civil administration was quickly followed by implementation of development and welfare schemes.

During 2009, Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern States witnessed the least number of incidents and casualties in many years. In Jammu and Kashmir, there were 499 incidents, while 78 civilians and 64 personnel of the security forces were killed, and 239 terrorists or militants were neutralised. “However, since the beginning of this year, there has been an increase in the number of attempts to infiltrate militants into India, and in the number of encounters on our side of the border. So far, 16 militants have been killed and 16 more arrested,” he said.

Referring to the acute shortage of manpower in the State police forces, Mr. Chidambaram said there was a “peculiar” situation in Uttar Pradesh, where in December 2008 the government sanctioned 2,04,021 new posts, and the recruitment was under way. “The vacancy position reflects a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. There is no reason why the States should not press the accelerator on recruitment and fill the vacancies.”

“Talks with Pakistan only at proposal stage”

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Sunday brushed aside questions about a possible contradiction in the government’s offer of talks with Pakistan, even as it blamed elements and terror groups from across the border for fomenting trouble and inciting violence in the country.

“No contradiction”

“We assess threats to internal security and that is the government assessment too, in which the Ministry of Home plays an important part. The government also makes assessments in respect of political and external situation and decides to make a move. There is no contradiction. It is premature to draw such an inference,” he told journalists after the Chief Ministers’ conference on internal security here.

“No drift in opinion”

Mr. Chidambaram said both he and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna were members of the Cabinet Committee on Security, and denied any drift in their opinion.

The Home Minister said that for him Hizbul Mujahideen commander Syed Salahuddin, based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed were “dark forces” that would be defeated wherever and whenever they challenged India.

"The government is only proposing to talk with Pakistan and what, where, in what manner, it is yet to be decided.”

‘Splendid cooperation’ from Dhaka

However, another neighbour — Bangladesh and Sheikh Hasina’s regime in Dhaka — came in for wholesome praise from Mr. Chidambaram for extending “splendid cooperation” to India in apprehending leaders of insurgent groups based in the northeast.

More In: National | News | States