Barely two weeks before the country's first specialised counter-terrorism agency is to become operational on March 1, the Centre's ambitious project found itself hitting the wall of its unpredictable ally, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress.
The West Bengal CM not only made public her opposition to the home ministry's pet project of setting up the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) but also rallied at least seven other non-Congress chief ministers against what they described as an "infringement on the states' rights".
It was Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik who first wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against the NCTC on Monday. Banerjee followed it up a day later, virtually prompting Bihar and Tamil Nadu chief ministers - Nitish Kumar and J Jayalalithaa - to raise the pitch.
The issue turned into a full blown controversy on Friday, with three BJP chief ministers Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh) and Prem Kumar Dhumal (Himachal Pradesh) joining the chorus against the agency along with NDA partner Parkash Singh Badal of Punjab.
The home ministry, however, made it clear that the NCTC was being established under the existing Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and there was no need to consult the states before issuing the notification.
"The NCTC is being formed for better coordination among agencies to fight terror more effectively. We are not passing any new legislation. The sections which have been quoted have been on the statute books for the past six or seven years," home secretary RK Singh said.
The Congress also attacked the opposition-ruled states. In an apparent reference to Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee and Odisha CM Patnaik, party spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary said they were part of the NDA government when it passed the controversial anti-terror law POTA (Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act) in 2002.
"If we recall and rewind… A lot of these people were associated when these draconian laws were framed during the NDA's tenure," she said.
(With inputs from state bureaus)