NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram offered to resign after Maoist insurgents killed 76 police this week, officials said on Friday, as New Delhi mobilised more security forces to flush out the rebels from their forest bases.
But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rejected his proposal to step down.
More than 1,000 Maoist fighters, armed with sophisticated weapons, ambushed 81 central police in a forested area of insurgency-hit Chhattisgarh on Tuesday, exposing a lack of intelligence and planning.
Opposition parties have since accused the government of failing to tackle the insurgency. Pressure to do more could rise as India faces polls over the next two years in eight key states, including some affected by the Maoists.
“I accept full responsibility for what happened in Dantewada (in Chhattisgarh),” Chidambaram said on Friday at a New Delhi ceremony to mark the deaths.
“I have been asked directly and indirectly, where does the buck stop for what happened,” said Chidambaram, appointed home minister after the 2008 Mumbai attacks to plug gaps in the security system. A total of 166 people died in those attacks.
“I have no hesitation in saying the buck stops at my desk.”
A Congress party leader and a home ministry official said Chidambaram wrote a letter to the prime minister offering to resign. “He did offer, but it was shot down immediately,” said the party leader, who did not wish to be identified.
Indian newspapers have carried front-page stories on the government’s failure to deal with the decades-old insurgency that began with a peasant’s movement in 1967 in the eastern state of West Bengal and has now spread to 22 of 28 states.
“No water, food or medicines. Now, go fight ‘biggest threat’,” The Times of India newspaper said, highlighting the challenges in training and equipping the police force.
The police killed in Tuesday’s ambush were not trained in jungle warfare before deployment in the Maoist stronghold in Chhattisgarh, officials said after a preliminary investigation.
Thousands of paramilitary troops have been scouring the jungles in east and central India, officials said.
The government says it will consider use of the air force to aid police in future offensives, but has so far ruled out using the army.
India has hesitated to use the army in counter-insurgency operations, experts say, because of criticism after it was deployed to root out a Sikh insurgency in 1984 in Punjab state.
The Maoists snatched weapons, including light machine guns and mortars, in this week’s surprise attack, and lost eight men, a rebel commander said in a statement to local media on Friday.
Besides raiding police bases for weapons, the rebels buy them from Chinese smugglers and are in touch with other militant groups operating in Indian states, including Kashmir and the northeast.
The estimated 20,000 Maoist combatants operate across a “red corridor” stretching from the Nepal border to West Bengal and through central India into the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
Additional reporting by Sujeet Kumar and C.J. Kuncheria; Editing by Ron Popeski