The Centre on Friday sent a strong message to the Orissa and Karnataka state governments, asking them in no uncertain terms to put an immediate end to communal violence.
As the violence spread in Orissa, leaving two more people killed on Friday, Home minister Shivraj Patil told Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to stop asking for more forces and get down to the job of ending the violence.
Two persons were killed in fresh violence on Friday at Sindhupanka village, 170 km from Phulbani, district headquarters of Kandhamal. According to district police officials, the miscreants attacked the house of Dushashan Majhi and hacked him to death. They also killed 15-year-old boy who was present at Majhi’s house.
With these deaths, the official toll has increased to 35 since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on June 23. And nearly 360 people have been arrested in the district. Altogether, 120 guns have been surrendered to the district authorities.
In fact, Friday’s Union Cabinet meeting focused on the steps the central government has to take to tackle the situation. “The situation is very grave. The government is quite concerned,” information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said after the cabinet meeting.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided to convene another Cabinet meeting to discuss the next steps, as the state governments concerned are allegedly reluctant to take any serious action.
An anguished Prime Minister, who had to face embarrassing questions about the ‘massacre’ of Christians from European leaders during his recent visit to France, told his cabinet colleagues, “This is a serious issue and we must discuss it.”
Although Singh made no secrets of his embarrassment on Friday, home ministry officials indicated that there were limits to what the Centre could do other than signaling its displeasure, unless there was political unanimity on taking extreme steps, like dismissing the state government.
Ahead of Friday’s cabinet meeting, Patil raised the level of central intervention and sent a harshly worded letter to Patnaik, making it clear that the state wasn’t doing much to restore peace and normalcy.
“Merely continuing to ask for additional forces after every few days cannot be the solution to the problems and violence being witnessed in the state,” the letter from the mild-mannered home minister said.
Meanwhile, police sources claimed that the intensity of the violence is on the wane. apart from the violence at Sindhupanka village, no untoward incidents have been reported till Friday evening from any other parts of Kandhamal district.
In neighbouring Boudh district, where nearly 100 houses were burnt on Thursday, no fresh incidents were reported on Friday. Orissa Director General of Police M.M. Praharaj said, “The incident in Boudh district had no religious dimension. The guilty will be nabbed soon.” He said the houses, which were torched, belonged to Hindu Dalits. Two persons have been arrested for being involved in the Boudh violence. Curfew was relaxed for the second consecutive day on Friday in nine towns of Kandhamal district.