Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is calling for tough action to stem a surge of terrorist and communal violence that has claimed hundreds of lives in recent months across the country. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, much of the violence is blamed on radical groups, both Muslim and Hindu.     

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday violence seems to be permeating across the length and breadth of the country, and called it an assault on the country's composite culture.

Mr. Singh was addressing a meeting of the National Integration Council, which includes chief ministers of the country's 28 states, leaders of political parties, and senior ministers.

"An atmosphere of hatred and violence is being artificially generated," he said. "There are forces deliberately encouraging such tendencies and also spawning militant outfits who engaged in irrational violence. These need to be firmly dealt with."       

The Prime Minister voiced his concern as India grapples with a wave of terrorist, sectarian and religious violence that has killed hundreds of people across the country in recent months.

A series of bomb attacks across several major cities has killed 140 people. The eastern state of Orissa has been wracked with clashes between Hindus and Christians since August. In the northeastern state of Assam, ethnic clashes between indigenous tribes and Muslim settlers have killed more than 50 people in recent weeks.

Many of the attacks are blamed on radical Muslim and Hindu groups. Hardline Hindu organizations have been accused of carrying out deadly attacks on Christians. Authorities say a homegrown radical Islamist group, the Indian Mujahideen, carried out the bomb attacks in several cities.

In recent weeks, police have arrested more than 20 Muslims, including students of a prominent Muslim University, for their links to the Indian Mujahideen. However, Muslim leaders accuse the police of making indiscriminate arrests in the wake of the bomb attacks.

Responding to such concerns, Prime Minister Singh cautioned law enforcement agencies on the need to be sensitive.    

"At the same time it is important that in trying to counter terrorism wrong methods and means are not adopted," the prime minister said. "Any impression that any community or sections amongst them are being targeted, or some kind of profiling is being attempted should be avoided."

Authorities are under pressure to act against both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalist groups and stem the growing tide of violence.

But analysts say action against radical groups is often not firm enough in a country where political parties do not want to alienate either Hindu or Muslim voters. Muslims make up about 12 per cent of the population in Hindu majority India.