India's PM blames wave of violence on extremists

October 13, 2008 4:36:07 AM PDT
The Indian prime minister warned Monday that a recent wave of bloodshed that has left scores dead across India threatens the "fundamental underpinnings" of the world's largest democracy. He also denounced hard-line political parties for creating "an atmosphere of hatred and violence" that has led to terrorist attacks, religious riots and ethnic clashes.

Nearly every corner of India has seen spasms of violence in recent months. Hindus have killed Christians in the east, suspected Muslim militants have set off bomb blasts in four major cities, Muslim protesters have clashed with police in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, and militant separatist groups have targeted civilians in the remote northeast.

Though religious clashes have erupted regularly throughout India's history, the recent wave of attacks has been especially alarming as India seeks to ride its booming economy to claim its place as a global power.

The recent cumulative death toll is in the hundreds and, with a national election looming, opposition political parties have accused Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government of fiddling while the country burns.

In his speech Monday, Singh denounced the widespread bloodshed, and accused religious leaders and politicians of widening the "fault lines" among India's diverse religious and ethnic groups.

"Violence seems to be permeating society today, across the length and breadth of our country," he said before a gathering of political leaders called the National Integration Council. "There are forces deliberately encouraging such tendencies and also spawning militant outfits who engage in irrational violence."

Many saw the remarks as veiled references to the Bajrang Dal, a radical Hindu group that has been linked to attacks against Christians that have left at least 32 dead since August. Many politicians, including members of Singh's party, have called for the group to be banned, but the move would alienate hard-line Hindu voters, and Singh has not endorsed the idea.

The Bajrang Dal is loosely affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party, a hard-line Hindu party that Singh's Congress Party defeated when it came to power in 2004. The BJP has accused Singh of being soft on terrorism and has announced plans to run their campaign under a "Save India" banner.

The election has to take place before May, but a date has not been announced.

The government's lurching investigations into the terrorist attacks have been hampered by poor training and inadequate funding.

Police have arrested more than 20 Muslims who they say are linked to the Students' Islamic Movement of India, a group that was banned in 2001, but they have produced little evidence supporting their claims.

On Monday, Singh urged leaders to find solutions that reinforce the peaceful coexistence of different groups.

"We must be conscious that in seeking short-term remedies the fundamental underpinnings of our inclusive society are not undermined," he said.