A Maoist insurgency raging across at least nine states is the chief internal security threat to India, even as traditional conflicts in Kashmir and the northeast have ebbed, the country's top law enforcement official said Monday.
Despite several high-profile attacks across the country last year, including a triple bombing in the city of Mumbai, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said there had been a decline in terror attacks and casualties in 2011. Security forces broke up 21 terror cells and arrested 64 people last year and the first three months of this year.
Chidambaram spoke to a meeting of India's chief ministers aimed at coordinating the country's anti-terror efforts.
Many of the state leaders have rejected a government proposal to set up a national counterterror center as a power grab by the central administration that infringes on their policing authority. The government says it needs the center to implement a unified strategy.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who did not mention the controversy over the center directly, warned the chief ministers that despite recent success, "this is a struggle in which we cannot relax."
"Today, terrorist groups are nimble, more lethal than ever before and increasingly networked across frontiers," he said.
Chidambaram praised a huge improvement in security in the disputed region of Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim as their own, and in the northeast, where ethnic insurgents have been fighting for decades.
However, he also warned that terror groups are continually trying to infiltrate from abroad and have opened new routes into the country from neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh.
In addition, the Maoists continue to threaten a wide belt of the east, where they extort people, target those seen as government sympathizers and attack security forces, he said.
The decline in casualties in that fight is gives a false sense of assurance, he said.
The government forces are suffering from a shortage of police stations, men, vehicles, weapons and infrastructure in the fight against the insurgents, Chidambaram said.
"There is more work to be done," he said.
In recent weeks, the insurgents kidnapped two Italian men and a state lawmaker in the eastern state of Orissa demanding the release of dozens of their imprisoned comrades. The Italians were freed after some prisoners were released, but the lawmaker is presumed to still be a hostage.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, are demanding land and jobs for impoverished tribal communities and accuse police and government officials of colluding with landlords and rich farmers to exploit the poor.