It should be considered a travesty of epic proportions that India, which has been at the receiving end of cross-border terrorism for over two decades, is unable to evolve a political consensus on how best to tackle an already tricky problem.
The near revolt by prominent chief ministers cutting across party lines against the creation of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) is yet another instance of how difficult it is becoming to implement a policy throughout the length and breadth of the country. A policy created by New Delhi can be easily shot down by a state government on the flimsiest of grounds, in the process dealing a body blow to the whole concept of federalism.
Nine chief ministers, all non-Congress but from surprisingly different political dispensations – from Narendra Modi of Gujarat to Jayalalitha of Tamil Nadu to Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal and Naveen Patnaik of Orissa, have held that the proposed centre, is in fact, an attack on the federal character of the Indian Constitution.
In separate letters to the Prime Minister, the chief ministers have one charge which is in common – the NCTC encroaches upon the state government's powers since policing, outside the central para-military forces, is basically a state subject. Their other grievance is that the state governments were not taken on board when this decision was arrived at.
There is a good reason why India has not been able to effectively counter terror: there is utter lack of political consensus of how to evolve a policy that would stem the flow of terror. For reasons of sheer vote bank politics, state governments with large Muslim electorates see it as an encroachment on minority rights and deliberate victimisation of a community. Which in itself is dangerous because it links one community with terror.
Looked at it one way or the other, the UPA government has somehow not played its cards right. State governments should have been taken on board, which they apparently have not.
Alternately, terrorist experts in India say that the NCTC, which is designed on the lines of US's anti-terror body by the same name, has powers to detain and arrest – powers not vested in its American counterparts. So could it also be seen as a sign of a turf war between the state police and the central agencies?
The Union home secretary has on the other hand clarified that NCTC has been set up under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and is, as such, a legal entity, which has been in force for several years.
Is then just a game of political brinkmanship? If it is, then it is a sad day for the supreme sacrifices which have been made by Indian security forces in Kashmir and elsewhere. The BJP, of all political parties, which came to power in the 1990s driving a hard policy against terror, seems to be opposing a central policy on terror and by merely citing opposition of chief ministers to NCTC cannot absolve itself of the blame of blunting the country's anti-terror edge which is cases like the Mumbai attack of 2008, have proved to be wholly inadequate.
Clearly India's democracy is also at a nascent stage because the power to disagree does not mean the power to disrupt. Whatever differences there are in any democracy like the US or UK, there is consensus on fighting terror and it is best reflected in the superb results which the countries have achieved by keeping insurgents at bay after being hit once. They are more bothered about the safety and security of their people then we are.
Far from modernising India's security apparatus, which has been compromised time and time again, the politicians are busy squabbling for votes, oblivious of the damage it is causing.
It is all very well to blame the police forces by all and sundry, but what are we giving them by way of tools to achieve their goals? Police stations in the country – minus a few cosmetic ones in metros – are ramshackle, decrepit, under armed and understaffed. When their political bosses are so plainly disagreeing about how best to fight well trained and motivated terrorists, you can hardly expect them to perform at their best. To top it all, there is political intervention at the drop of a hat. So while Mamata Bannerjee may be opposed to the setting up of a NCTC, she has no qualms in entering a police station in Kolkata in her capacity as chief minister to physically demand the release of a party comrade, much against any cannon of law or justice.
There is another aside to this. More and more foreign companies looking to invest in India see it as a story which is going sour. If you cannot set up a NCTC, you are seen as not being in a position to allow the biggest foreign direct investments (FDIs) to start their operations. In other words, India is seen as a country which is unwilling to implement a national policy across the board. That can only be considered bad news.
In this country, we have yet to learn the lesson and if past history is any evidence, it is going to take quite some time before we are able to do so. Until then, prepare for collateral damage with all the consequences it may entail.