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Yes, Prime Minister?
The current row between the Centre and several state governments over the formation and functioning of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) illustrates the continuing prevalence of the 'island mentality' in dealing with pan-Indian internal security threats.
While individual states can control regional terrorism or insurgencies with a limited spread - as seen in some notable success stories, like the case of Al Ummah in Tamil Nadu - terrorism or insurgencies of a pan-Indian spread are a whole different ballgame.
Cases like that of the Indian Mujahideen or the Maoist insurgency are far more difficult to deal with. The whole of India is their theatre. No individual state police force, however professional and competent, can deal with such threats on its own.
When our constitution was framed over 60 years ago, our internal security tasks were, in hindsight, relatively and remarkably simple - we mostly needed to deal with dacoits, crime and insurgencies of the Telangana kind. Our founding fathers had the confidence that the states could deal with such internal security threats on their own. In their keenness to preserve and protect the chosen federal nature of our Union, they made law and order (and most policing functions) a state subject.
But global terror is vastly different, to put it mildly. It also mutates rapidly. Maritime terror is now a significant threat, while major terrorist organisations have been actively looking out for WMD materials that they could use. From being global, such virulent threats are likely to progressively become national.
Only the Union government can deal with these mutations and look to prevent such organisations from operating in our territory. Our internal security problems are inextricably entwined with our external environment. The non-State actors of today - whether dubbed terrorists or insurgents - actually copy nation states in their ability to use modern technologies and aim to develop new means of causing death and destruction.
Clearly, with terror constantly changing like this, often beyond our worst imagination, no single government or agency or police force can cope with them by operating from an island of its own imagination. Such an 'island mentality' and, indeed, the 'island techniques' used in the management of internal security, must necessarily give way to a co-operative and coordinated way of managing internal security.
Federalism is no longer the ability to act alone. It is the willingness and the ability to act together, which terrorists, however, understand. Many are increasingly acting together at the regional, national and global level. But authorities in India are not, sadly. Ironically, we find it easier to cooperate with other nations, but not with each other.
The NCTC concept was borrowed by home minister P Chidambaram from the US, where its NCTC has played a useful role in preventing terrorism. Normally, there should have been no controversy, but Chidambaram's action in seeking to make the NCTC a part of the Intelligence Bureau - with executive powers of arrest and search - has rightly alarmed many states, several of which have opposition party governments. In the US and elsewhere, such instruments function independently and not as a wing of the intelligence agency. They have no powers of search and arrest. The IB is a clandestine instrument. Fears of likely misuse of such powers by it are legitimate. They have to be addressed.
We used to have good habits of cooperation in the past, when the same political party was in power at the Centre and in the states. These habits are withering away due to the emerging multi-polarity of our political landscape in which almost everything gets politicised.
Yesterday's instruments are out of date. To oppose the new instruments under the pretext of threats to federalism is short-sighted and will prove suicidal in the long run.
And we do have to come up with new ways of interpreting and protecting federalism that would strengthen our ability to maintain internal security without jeopardising our federal structure. But dogged, unthinking opposition to new, much-needed structures such as the NCTC will prove counterproductive.
The Centre cannot escape blame for the current controversy though. It should have realised that it cannot deal with internal security without the cooperation of state police forces. Instead of consulting the states on an equal basis and encouraging them to get onto the same boat, it has added to their suspicions by playing games that politicians play unmindful of national interests. Its actions in avoiding political consultations on the NCTC before issuing the notification on its creation have returned to haunt it now. Instead of making the states more flexible and responsive to ideas of pan-Indian counterterrorism management, it has made them more distrustful of the Centre.
It is time for the prime minister to come to the forefront, take over the leadership role in this matter and remove the suspicions and apprehensions of the states. How can India have internal peace if the institutions of individual states decay and how can individual states have internal peace if the central institutions are thwarted from functioning as they should?
There is one way forward now. The prime minister should announce the withdrawal of the notification already issued and set up a small group of experts, from both the Centre and the states, to come out with a fresh draft of how the NCTC will function without adding to frictions between the Union and state governments.
The writer is a former head of R&AW's counterterrorism division
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