For India's sake, States must meet Centre halfways on NCTC

Ahead of today’s crucial meeting of Chief Ministers to discuss the establishment of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) to enhance anti-terror coordination and intelligence-sharing at a pan-Indian level, differences continue to persist between the Centre and some States.

Most of the non-Congress Chief Ministers – and at least one key constituent of the UPA alliance – continue to oppose the proposed agency on the ground that it would encroach on States’ rights, given that law and order is a State subject.

In response to the concerns articulated earlier by these States, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has clarified that the NCTC would function through the State anti-terrorism squads, and that all State Directors-General of Police would be inducted into the standing council. In addition, he has indicated that even in the rare cases where NCTC officers would be required to intervene directly, they would do their utmost to alert State police officials immediately thereafter. (More details here.)

Mamata Banerjee

Mamata Banerjee's stand on national security issues betrays duplicity. PTI

If the expectation was that these clarifications on standard operating procedures (SOP) would help the State governments overcome their inhibition about the agency, they appear to have been unrealised so far.

On Friday, Paschim Banga Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, notionally a UPA member (but who is straining at the leash), indicated that she would continue to oppose the NCTC on the grounds that it threatened the federal structure of the Indian polity by encroaching on States’ rights.

“We are opposing the NCTC,” she told mediapersons in New Delhi. “There are boundaries for state governments and the Centre, and no one should cross the boundaries.” The NCTC, she added, “is intervening in the state’s boundaries. It would destroy the federal structure.”

Other non-Congress Chief Ministers – including Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu) and Naveen Patnaik (Odisha) – have in the past articulated similar inhibitions about the NCTC. They had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in February to urge him to shelve the proposal to establish the NCTC on 1 March until further consultations could be held to address their concerns.

Whether the recent clarifications from Chidambaram have helped them overcome their inhibitions will be known today, but from all accounts, it seems unlikely.

The States’ concerns about protecting their turf do have their merits. And the Union Home Ministry did not exactly cover itself in glory with its failure to consult the States on a matter that would require extensive coordination with the States.

Yet, State governments’ resolute opposition to an NCTF “in any form” – as Banerjee recently said – represents an extreme position, one that is wholly incompatible with notions of shared responsibility between the Centre and the States on so grave a matter as national security.

In fact, Banerjee’s own position on other areas that require Centre-State coordination show up the two-faced nature of her opposition to the NCTC.

For instance, when the Home Ministry wrote to her government asking it to pay for retaining Central forces in the State (for operations against Maoists), Banerjee shifted the goalpost. She wrote back to claim that the Maoist insurgency could not be perceived as “just a law and order problem” since it involved issues of national security.

Therefore, if Central forces are deployed to counter the Maoists’ insurgency problem, the expenses have to be born entirely by the Centre, she reasoned.

As this blogger points out, Banerjee’s “contradictory assertions” are hard to reconcile. Her position is that “Maoist insurgency can’t be seen as just a law and order problem since it involves issues of national security. But terror is a law and order problem which doesn’t need any action by the Centre.”

Such extreme and irreconcilable positions make a mockery of States’ claims that their stand is principled and based on protecting the federal nature of the polity. They only breed cynicism that some State governments are stooping to partisan politics even on importance matters of national security.

The Centre can surely be faulted for its initial unwillingness to consult the States, but since then it has more than made up for that lapse by going halfways to address the State governments’ principal concerns over the NCTC.

It’s now for the State governments to demonstrate that they are capable of rising above their provincial mindset and have an open mind about the NCTC, even if it means tweaking some more provisions. To claim that they oppose the NCTC “in whatever form” is the height of unreason. Being in a permanent state of opposition to every proposal does little justice to these leaders' status as heads of government.

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