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Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, February 21, 2010
Home Minister P. Chidambaram has invited the chief ministers of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal to New Delhi to make sure they endorse the Centre’s anti-Maoist action plan drawn up at the Kolkata meeting on February 9. This time, Chidambaram asked the chief ministers to fix the meeting date themselves, as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had complained that the Kolkata date was fixed without consulting him. Jharkhand’s Shibu Soren had also bunked, citing health reasons.

Chidambaram, while holding out an olive branch to Maoists in his recent speeches, wants Bihar and Jharkhand “on the same page” with the Centre on the strategy and the force deployment plan.

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is not being called to the meeting since he attended the Kolkata brainstorming. West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is invited to discuss the state’s 473-km-long porous borders with Jharkhand.

The Home Ministry’s move gained urgency especially after the Maoist attacks on an Eastern Frontier Rifles camp at Silda in Bengal’s West Midnapore district on Monday, killing 25 people, and the massacre of 12 people at a village in Bihar’s Jamui district three days later.

Still, the states’ response to the invitation is even more opaque. Nitish Kumar acknowledged he had received the invitation letter but refused to divulge what his response would be. He said, “Let me collect my facts first.”

Soren is expected to announce his decision on Sunday.

“An invitation has come. But Soren was busy through the day,” said Mohammad Shafique Ansari, his press advisor. Bengal Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen said, “We haven’t got any information.” An official said one of the key decisions taken in Kolkata was to raise the strength of forces in the four states by 15 battalions from 58. Each battalion has a sanctioned strength of 1,050 personnel, but the operational strength is closer to 600.  (With inputs from Kolkata, Patna and Jamshedpur)