Certain things are doomed to fail since the time of their conception. The National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) too appears to be going in the direction of a dustbin. The current state of affairs is invariably a result of partisan politics and departmental turf war, rather than rational considerations.
Two long years after Union Home Minister P Chidambaram first spoke about the need to have an NCTC for the country, chief ministers of several states belonging to non-Congress political parties have risen to protect what they consider to be an assault on the principles of federalism. They have protested against the Centre’s unilateral attempt to intrude upon their territory, since law and order is a state subject. They argue that they have not been consulted about the new organisation that is supposedly empowered to arrest, carry out searches and interrogate terror suspects without their consent.
Why Bihar Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa et al had not spoken about the ‘evil designs’ behind the NCTC for the last 24 months isn’t clear. Why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now crying hoarse about the ‘arbitrariness’ of the decision too isn’t easy to understand. That these states were merely waiting for the Centre to take the first step to consult them before reacting would be a poor explanation.
It would be apparent to many that the current protests are motivated by reasons other than a deep allegiance to the principles of federalism, for the past ‘arbitrary’ and ‘un-federal’ counter-terror measures of New Delhi have not been so bitterly protested against. For example, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), set up in 2009, allegedly transgresses the authority of the states just like the NCTC. In 2011, New Delhi unilaterally brought all Hindu terror cases from several states and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and assigned the NIA with their investigation. Murmur of protests is all that we had heard from the states then.
In the current context, the MHA has reminded the states that providing security to the country has to be a shared responsibility between New Delhi and the states, although the Centre does have the power to take unilateral measures in the event of external aggression and internal disturbance. Terrorism, internal or externally promoted does fall under that category.
However, whether the NCTC in its proposed form, as a mere subsidiary of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), will be able to live upto the task of countering terror is very much in doubt. The grand disconnect between what was proposed by Chidambaram on December 23, 2009 and what has been agreed upon in 2012 paints the NCTC in a poor light. Dangers are that the NCTC will be burdened by the loopholes of the IB system and will be an unnecessary addition to a bunch of organisations which are entrusted with more or less similar work.
The fact that formation of the NCTC faced enormous opposition from the IB is clear. Just like the states, the existing agencies are deeply protective about what they consider to be their own turf and do their best to discourage any intervention, even if it means an improvement in the overall scheme of things. The IB, fearful of being sidelined to irrelevance by the power and influence of the proposed NCTC, ensured that the new outfit is an operational minnow and not one whose roles include in Chidambaram’s words, “preventing a terrorist attack, containing a terrorist attack should one take place, and responding to a terrorist attack by inflicting pain upon the perpetrators”. A person as influential as Chidambaram had to consent to a watered down version of his own pet project.
Given the opposition from the states, it is very much doubtful if the Centre will have the stomach to operationalise the NCTC from March 1, till the concerns of the states are taken into account. An inter-state assembly would have to be called for consultations, providing the states a formal platform to air their grievances. This would eventually mean that the mandate of the NCTC would be further diluted. And the end product would be little more than an agency that finds some New Delhi-based postings for some senior officials.
Under the circumstances and for the sheer wastage of efforts that the NCTC project has been marked by, won’t it be a good idea to simply forget about it? May be one more future terror attack would wake everybody — states and agencies — up from the intentional slumber, with a bit more commitment to countering terror?
This article appeared at ExpressBuzz.