Striking a different note from the government on last week's anti-Naxal operation in Chhattisgarh that left 19 tribals killed, Congress on Tuesday blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state for the "botch-up", saying it has resulted in the loss of lives of innocent tribals and minors.
Asked about Home Minister P Chidambaram lauding Central Reserve Police Force for its "transparent" and "upfront" attitude over the issue and saying that those killed included Naxals, All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge for the state B K Hariprasad said the minister was merely reading the report given to him by the Chhatttisgarh government.
"Whatever our home minister is saying is according to the report given by the Chhattisgarh government.... I do not agree with the report given by the Chhattisgarh government," Hariprasad said in response to a volley of questions on an apparent disconnect between the party's position with that of Chidambaram on the issue.
Contradicting the state government, the Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Commitee has said that it was a "completely fake encounter".
Chidambaram, who had last week said that three important Naxal leaders -- Somulu, Nagesh and Mahesh -- were killed in the gunbattle, on Tuesday said his statement was based on the report of the CRPF, which is under his charge and that the force has been very "transparent" and "upfront" on the issue.
The home minister also said that all those killed in the encounter were adult barring one, who was 15 to 16 years old.
Hariprasad said the preliminary report of the Congress fact-finding team held that several "innocent people and minors" were also killed.
Nineteen people were killed in a fierce gunfight in the dense jungles of Dantewada on June 27-28 in a joint anti-Naxal operation.
Sources in Congress said the preliminary report submitted by the 12-member team headed by senior tribal MLA Kawasi Lakhma said among the victims were seven minors who are 15 years old and below.
"Those killed also included minors. If children have been killed, there should not be any pardon. In the name of tackling Maoists, innocent tribals should not be victimised," Hariprasad said.
Hariprasad said it was the "failure" of the state government in collecting proper intelligence that led to this "botch-up" and adequate precautions were not taken before this major operation.
The report prepared by the local Congress fact-finding team mentions the names of victims as Hirpa Suresh (13), Kumari Kaka Saraswati (12), Ramvilas Markam, Dilip Markam and Kaka Rahul (all 14), the sources said.
The report has also said that it was difficult to establish who fired the first shot that provoked the encounter.
Security agencies had maintained that they had to open fire after their jawans were injured in the firing from the other side.
Hariprasad said that the primary responsibility of the state government as well as the central government is to protect the tribals.
"Priority should be given to save the life and property of the tribals in the Bastar region. Tribals should not become victims of the cross fire between security forces and Naxals. They should be protected at all costs," he said.
Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo had also called the offensive "completely unacceptable" and dubbed as "notorious" Chhattisgarh government's record in conducting anti-Naxal operations.