Friday, April 19, 2013

NCTC and India’s federal future



The Chief Ministers’ Conference scheduled to take place in New Delhi tomorrow is unlikely to be the venue where the issue of setting up a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) will be finally settled. Most non-Congress CMs are unlikely to attend the meeting, and even if they attend they may not accept the NCTC proposal even in its new watered-down version. The NCTC saga and its eventual fate, to my mind, is an extremely significant test case that could tell us a great deal about the future of Indian federalism. 

The original NCTC proposal, fiercely opposed by the non-Congress ruled states ranging from Bihar to Tamil Nadu to Gujrat to Tripura, had proposed to locate the NCTC inside the Intelligence Bureau under the Union Home Ministry. It would have the powers to arrest terror suspects anywhere in the country, without prior permission from the state police, and prosecute them. Now imagine a clandestine spy agency, working under the shadows without any accountability, with a ‘glorious’ history of doing the errands of the ruling party in New Delhi, being tasked with arresting and persecuting powers through the length and breadth of the country? The proposed intelligence czar is to be provided with a number datasets containing intelligence collected by various other agencies. All of this will undoubtedly be put to service for ‘political intelligence’ gathering by the ruling party. 

Under severe attack and informed critique from the opposition parties and concerned citizens, the government has now proposed a revised NCTC blueprint. As per the new proposal, NCTC will be directly under the MHA and not under the command of the IB and a nodal officer will be appointed in each State, who could be its police chief, for keeping the States informed of any anti-terror operation. Even this is unlikely to pass the coalition test tomorrow. The UPA government is under Manmohan Singh is simply not in a political position to form any sort of national consensus on the NCTC issue. 
My primary problem with proposals such as the NCTC is that they tend to be anti-people and worryingly less accountable. I am perplexed by the argument often made by those who support extraordinary measures to handle terror: “when terrorists attack with most sophisticated weapons, the state should be allowed to put in place extraordinary measures to address it”. It is ridiculous to equate the state and terrorists. State, and the society that lies at the heart of it, is supposed to be more civilized and enlightened than the terrorists and hence their tools and means to counter terror should be people-friendly and fair, and pass the twin tests of natural justice and modern jurisprudence. 

The supporters of draconian laws to tackle terror also remind us from time to time that we should not politicize the fight against terror. But consider this: whenever there is a terror strike in the country, no matter where, the local police and various Central agencies make it a point to pick up a few muslim youth accusing them of being the masterminds behind the attacks. If they are lucky, the arrested – having undergone humiliation, torture and loss of employment, forget about the terrible years in prison - will be let off by the courts years later for lack of evidence. No compensation offered, no apologies tendered nor are those who made false arrests - and secured promotions and awards for their valorous fight against terror - made accountable. If this is not politicization of the fight against terrorism, what is? Hence, discussion on how and with what we should fight terror is politicization in the right way. 
Given this abysmal record of the state and Central governments’ fight against terror, we should have more than some politically-managed consensus on the issue of NCTC but there should also be wide ranging consultations with various civil society and human rights organisations on an important issue such as this before putting in place such drastic measures. 

Indeed, as mentioned above, the ongoing debate about NCTC would also have deeper implications for the country’s foreign/defense/security policies. To a lot of people, the very fact that the Central government is unable to bring together the state governments to enact the necessary legislation to set up the NCTC is indicative of the deeper policy paralysis that the country is witnessing today. Is it? The fact that the state Chief Ministers are speaking up and against NCTC, they argue, shows that the country will no longer be able to have a coherent policy on counter terrorism, security sector reforms, intelligence gathering, national defence, all of which are crucial for the continued existence of the country. How accurate is tis argument? 

I am an advocate of true federalism wherein the constituent units of a country are consulted and effectively participate in all important aspects of policymaking for the country as a whole, especially when it has something to do with the domestic space and politics of the country. Notwithstanding my inherent suspicion about anything that has a centralizing feature, I think the participation of state leaders and local politicians and other concerned parties in the policy making of the country will only lead to more democratization and accountability which will make the Indian state more representative and people-friendly in the longer run.  India is too huge a country to have one single opinion on any given issue and by not consulting the varied constituencies, especially the elected ones at the local level, the Central government would only be thrusting totalitarian solutions down the throats of a deeply divided polity.

(Source: Greater Kashmir14 APRIL 2013, URL: )

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