Saturday, May 5, 2012

Do we need another terror attack to get NCTC….

Yesterday’s meeting of the CMs with the Prime Minister and the Home Minister was a mere formality. The CMs had already decided that they would oppose the NCTC. The CMs were more worried about their “autonomy” (I will argue that they have too much, not too little), not so much about providing a tough fight to terrorists and protecting their people. There is a simple reason for this – there has not been a major terrorist strike in the last few years, and hence the public pressure on the CMs is less. Today, if they oppose the NCTC, their people do not think of them as being callous. It’s a thing seen repeatedly in India – nothing gets done unless our backs are to the wall. Only another terrorist attack will push our recalcitrant politicians into acting on this matter.

The same is the case with the fight against Maoists. A few years back, there was expectation that the Union Home Ministry was launching a new strategy to eliminate the internal threat. The Army was to be used in a minor or major way as the reports indicated. Activities of various states were going to be co-ordinated by the Central government. But again, the pressure from the CMs – who were worried that the Center would take over in the name of fighting the Maoists (in reality they were worried that some of their dubious political friends could be arrested) – put paid to any such plans. Today, the scourge of Maoists has only increased. Every now and then, Maoists capture someone or the other – and a swap with kidnapped Maoists follows – rendering the entire fight irrelevant.

When I had first written a post on the Maoists issue, one of my readers had commented that Maoists should be declared terrorists. That would allow the Center to legally take over the fight – since the defence of the country is within the purview of the Center (while law and order is a state subject). But even if we had declared Maoists as terrorists, the NCTC episode shows that it would have made no difference. Here is a body conceived only to fight terrorism, and the CMs are won’t support it. For them terrorism is a state subject. Maoists are safe; they shouldn’t worry about a fight back from the Indian state. So shouldn’t the terrorists.

After the 26/11 episode, in a period of national uproar against terrorism, our parliamentarians cutting across party lines were under pressure to enact the amendment to the Unlawful Activites (Prevention) Act (UAPA). It now appears that that act was not a demonstration of the ability of our Parliamentarians to fight unitedly; that was just public pressure and the fear that opposing a National terror Act could be seen as being anti-national. The NCTC is nothing but a body created under the same act. Reports indicate that there is nothing in the NCTC’s powers that was not already covered under the Act. So if the Act was necessary, why is the NCTC not so? Maybe the NCTC should have been created earlier – while the public sentiment against terrorism was still high.

Why is NCTC a Center-State issue at all? Why is not seen as a national problem in which every person joins hands? Do our states really have too little autonomy? When the nuclear power plant in TN was ready for a launch in Koodankulam, a bunch of protestors went on a fast against the plant. The CM of the state decided to keep quiet, leaving it to the Central government to handle to crisis. The plant which costed some Rs 14000 crores to build, and which would have provided relief mostly to the people of TN only, was delayed by several months, thanks to the political posturing of the TN CM. Only when she decided to back the Center did the protestors get evicted. Is this an example of too much or too little autonomy – when the Center was totally dependent on the state to protect its huge investment? When Mamata Banerjee hijacks the Central government with her demands every now and then, she usually succeeds. Is this a case of too much or too little autonomy? When the center’s FDI in multi-brand retail policy envisages that the states can always refuse to allow foreign retailers in their states, is that too much or too little autonomy? When the states can resist forever the GST – a reform considered revolutionary by almost all – is that evidence of too much autonomy or too little?

This autonomy bogey has been created only to create pain points for the Central government, with no thought being paid to the pain points of the people who suffer from terror attacks. Since the name of Mamata Banerjee (an “ally” of the Congress) is usually thrown in to inflict pain on the Congress, it appears the NCTC is in reality a political fight between the Congress and the others (mostly the BJP). Why does it have to be a Congress v/s BJP fight? Is it the BJP’s belief and fear that the Congress will keep ruling at the center (or will rule for a longer period of time than itself) and hence their state governments will remain under “attack”? Because if they believed that they too could rule at the Center, then they wouldn’t worry so much, right?

Of course, it is a political fight and nothing else. If there were another terror attack, our media would turn it into an attack on India, and blame the Center for not doing enough to fight terrorism. When the 26/11 attack happened, how many people blamed the state government? Almost no one. It was shown to be the Center’s problem. And yet the states won’t allow the Center to act in their best interests and that of the country. In the US – a far more federal country than India – the Patriot Act as well as the NCTC (of the US) are empowered to work against terrorism with the states supporting the Federal government in any manner required. Why can’t we do the same in India? Do our state governments have enough sophistication in their police forces to be able to fight the most motivated, and most well armed terrorists on their own? Just ask anyone – the image that we carry of the police is that of pot bellied traffic cops who wouldn’t be able to run 100 meters to nab a culprit. Just think of the Noida police which trampled over evidence in the Aarushi murder case. A police force which has no budgetary support to even arm its force with modern guns. We expect the state governments to protect the country against terrorism?

And what about the poorer states? Those that cannot afford to even provide their people with employment and two square meals a day? Are we expecting them to equip and arm their police forces to be able to take on the might of the global terrorists? Or are we saying that the poor deserve lesser protection compared to the richer states?

The real truth is that terrorism is a national problem – not a state problem – and so is Maoism. Both should be treated as exclusive Central government responsibilities and the Center should be allowed to do its duty. The states should have no or little say in this. Even if there is a degree of harassment to a few political leaders in the states because of abuse of authority by the Center, it is ok. The larger focus should be on avoiding harassment for the people. That’s all that should matter….

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