Saturday, February 18, 2012

Using federalism to politicize terror…..

Several CMs – nine or ten at the last count – are “strongly” opposing the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) that has been set up by the Center. The stated reason for the opposition is that “the states were not consulted” and that “it impacts the federal structure” as provided in the Constitution. Since a major terrorism attack has not happened for a little while now, the CMs have forgotten that India remains under the threat of another attack and that if the next attack does happen, they would have no place to hide. Clearly, the bogey of federalism is being used now – for purely political reasons.

Sometimes I wonder if the opposition parties think in their heads that they will always remain in opposition. It certainly appears so. For the subject of NCTC to become a political one, it has to be assumed that the opposition parties believe the Congress will always rule at the center. Only then would this be an attempt by the Congress to control the states (under the garb of terrorism). However, this is an assumption that certainly cannot be made – at least in times such as these when the Congress is under so much flak. If things continue this way, it is very likely that the Congress will lose power at the Center in 2014. If hypothetically, there is an NDA government that gets set up at the Center in 2014, the powers to “control” the NCTC and hence the states will shift to the NDA. At that time, many Congress ruled states will suddenly start to complain about an attack on federalism. Federalism is an atrocious argument. Our politics has to rise about petty turf issues and understand the new challenges being faced by the country now.

When the US enacted its own NCTC (first called Terrorist Threat Integration Center) after the 9/11 attacks, most Indians said “See how the Americans fight terror. They take action. We must learn from them”. The NCTC in the US also cuts across state lines and works in a federal manner under the control of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It draws its officers from the CIA, FBI and Pentagon. It tries to ensure that clues about potential attacks are not missed because of turf issues. In fact, the 9/11 commission that was set up to understand why the attacks took place at all made a scathing attack that the US had no clue that the attacks were going to take place. It was in response to this that the NCTC was set up by George Bush.

The story is no different in India. It is post the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai (in 2008) that the UAPA was amended in 2009 and the NCTC was sought to be set up under this act. In the aftermath of the attacks, every political party supported the amendment, not wanting to appear opposed to a strong anti-terrorism act. I am presuming that the amendment would have gone through rounds of debate in Parliament. Every political party – including of course the BJP and the BJD – had the chance to think about federalism at that point in time. Why did they choose to support the amendment then? The NCTC is nothing but an outfit set up under this very amended act (The original act dates back to 1967).

Our politicians have to recognize that terrorism is a new threat the world is facing. Terrorism in the current international form has been around for maybe only a couple of decades or so. When the Constitution was written in 1950, the writers had no clue that this sort of terrorism would come around one day. The Constitution thus kept law and order in the state list. There is a need today to change that. Law and Order for normal criminal activity can well remain in the state list. However, the law and order related to terrorist activities should be taken out of the state list and put under the Central list.

Fighting terror requires a unified response. Out here, we have a situation when even normal criminals take advantage of the turf fight between states. There are so many cases when two state police forces cannot coordinate their actions to nab the culprit. Just look at the politicization of the fight against the Maoists. Again, the Central government can do pretty much nothing except request the states to up the ante. Because all states don’t coordinate their efforts, Maoist attackers often jump across from one state to another to escape their capture. Most of the Maoist affected states are poor and don’t even have the sophisticated arms and the trained forces required to take on the Maoists. And yet, when the Center wanted to plan a bigger offensive, it had to tamp it down under similar excuses – that law and order is a state subject. The next time a Maoist attack happens, lets all wring our hands in anger and shame and despair. And let’s make more political attacks on each other.

Terrorists have become extremely sophisticated. As the attack on Mumbai showed, the terrorists came equipped with satellite phones, modern weaponry and the backing of foreign nations and their intelligence agencies. The attack on the Israeli diplomat’s wife in Delhi recently shows that India can get drawn into a conflict in which it is not even a party. Are we to say that the Delhi Police alone should investigate the probe? And if the biker who supposedly planted the bomb on the diplomat’s car came from say Gujarat or Maharashtra, then the Delhi police must go through the bureaucracy of talking to the state police, no matter how much time it takes? How can terrorism be prevented this way?

The Center is also to blame – at least partly – for the backfoot it finds itself on in this matter. When it backed down on allowing FDI in multi-brand retail, I had mentioned that the Congress would have to suffer similar consequences in the future also. The FDI decision was only an Executive decision and needed no approval from Parliament. By backing down then, the Center exposed itself to similar pressure tactics later. The NCTC also doesn’t need the approval of the states. That approval was already taken when the UAPA was amended in 2009. The states had their chance then. Why are they creating a problem now?

The reality of the opposition to the NCTC perhaps is what Arnab Goswami brought out in his debate on the subject a few days back (on Times Now). Maybe the bogey of federalism has become an easy way to rally opposition parties against the Congress. The completely derelict Mamata Banerjee can always be counted on to oppose any move of the Congress……and that gives the opposition a chance to say “Even the UPA allies don’t support it”. Mamata’s opposition has become a joke nowadays. Nobody knows what she stands for. Her opposition cannot be taken seriously.

But what is it that the states are really worried about? Why are they really opposing the NCTC? It’s the power of “search and seizure” that passes onto the central government under which the NCTC will operate. The states are worried that the NCTC will be used by the Congress to browbeat them. If this is the only issue, it can be resolved by better defining the occasions on which the Center can intervene. The UAPA is very specific in defining terrorist organizations – it lists 32 such organizations in its schedule.

There is also the history of federal agencies in India that worries the state governments. When POTA was enacted, Jayalalitha used it for arresting Vaiko, a political opponent. When the NIA was set up, and when it started investigating cases of saffron terror, the NDA accused the Congress of abusing the investigating agency. The CBI is another central investigation agency that is accused of kowtowing to it political masters. This history cannot be wished away – and yet we have no option but to have a more federal terror prevention authority.

The real truth is that there is a huge dose of politics in the opposition of the states to the NCTC. There may also be a certain element of genuine worry, but it’s not so much that we have to shelve the authority. The Center may take steps to reassure the states about its intentions, but under no circumstances should it back down. The argument of the states that they were not consulted is specious, considering that they supported the amendment to the UAPA in 2009……

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