Monday, February 25, 2013

A point by point rebuttal of Jaitley’s letter opposing NCTC….

Arun Jaitley has said that the BJP is opposed to the NCTC “in its current form”. The lame duck excuse he is given is the same old argument – that the NCTC “impinges upon the powers of the state government”. Powers of “search, seize and arrest”. In short, the powers of the state government to play big daddy. In the meanwhile, terrorists – a wholly different breed of criminals from state-level goons – can continue jumping across from state to state, freely going about their business. Nothing but a few more terrorist attacks will make the BJP realize how it is politicizing and harming India’s fight against terrorism.

Arun Jaitley has written an open letter on the subject. In the letter, he writes “India needs a concerted approach against terror. The war against terror must be uninterrupted – it must be uninterruptible”. Very powerful words….and yet all that he is doing is interrupting the fight. It would be better if he practiced what he wrote.

This post offers a point by point rebuttal of the points raised by him.

  1. On the powers to search, seizure and arrest, Jaitley writes “Why would the Central government need to give police powers to the NCTC which would otherwise be under the domain of NIA or state police”. So Jaitley is OK with these powers being under another central agency – the NIA; somehow the principles of federalism are not impacted then. But if the same powers are extended to the NCTC, India’s federal structure gets destroyed. The only difference between the NIA and the NCTC is that the former acts after the terrorist act (to nab the culprits), while the latter acts before the attacks take place. If anything, the need for search, seizure and arrest powers is higher for the NCTC, as much of the intelligence can be gathered only by “talking” to suspects. If the NCTC isn’t allowed to do that without the help of the local cops (a bureaucratic process which takes several days, especially if the state government is ruled by a different party and is prone to leaks), then how will it be effective in preventing attacks?

  1. In the letter, Jaitley has said that even in the US, the NCTC does not have the power of search, seize and arrest: “The American NCTC deals with only strategic planning and the integration of intelligence without any operational involvement”. Well, Jaitley is right (after all, he is a great lawyer!), but Jaitley conveniently ignores that the US has the FBI which can do all that is being proposed to be given to the NCTC here – including in a pro-active preventive manner. We don’t have anything akin to the FBI. The CBI is the only body that exists, but its mandate is really very different (not terrorism). The CBI can search, seize and arrest without any reference to the state police. Why can’t the NCTC? Even apart from the FBI, the US has several other agencies dedicated to anti-terror activities (just check out how many American TV shows exist on the subject).

  1. Jaitley also writes about his objection to the NCTC being placed under the IB. He hasn’t bothered to elaborate what his real problem with this is except to state that “IB has shifted its focus from security related activities to political and quasi-political activities” and that “IB functioning is a secret. It is a non-statutory body. Its budget and spending has no accountability”. Clearly, Jaitley is the one politicizing the issue. Also, what does he expect the IB to do? Share its secrets with the opposition? Likewise, does it also expect the National Security Advisor’s office to share information with the opposition? Since Jaitley conveniently referred to the US NCTC when it suited him (previous point), let me also point out that in the US, the NCTC is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a body similar to our IB.

  1. Jaitley also writes “Why should the central government not trust the states” and “Is there any reason to doubt that the state police in India cannot be trusted for anti-terror functions?”. Great political rhetoric. But we’ve seen what happens when the IB passes on intelligence inputs to states. Most such intelligence is not “specific” and the state police doesn’t have the capability nor the resources to investigate the leads. As a result, many preventable attacks go undetected. If the NCTC was tasked with such investigations, it would directly probe the leads. And for this, it would need to arrest suspects and question them.

I also have a question to ask Jaitley. Since he keeps accusing the Congress of being “soft on terror” because it scrapped the POTA, I want to ask him why his government was OK with curbing civil rights the way POTA did, but is not OK with even sharing (not even curbing mind you) certain rights of the states with the center? A very harsh attitude on one subject, and a very opposite view on the other? I also want to ask him “Why should the state governments not trust the states?

The real truth is that it is the BJP that is being soft on terror. It is politicizing the issue of terror because it believes that it can score a few points in the next elections on this issue. If it was really concerned about the country’s fight with terror, it would strengthen the center’s hands, just the way I would expect the Congress to do so if the BJP were ruling at the center. Ruling parties can change….but our fight against terror must remain non-partisan….

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