The chief ministers’ conference, called to resolve the differences over handling of security issues, ended on Monday with non-Congress CMs not only gunning for the UPA government, but also using the occasion to search for the possibility of a new front.
Although the NCTC, the latest target of the non-Congress state governments, wasn’t on the agenda — a point emphasised by Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh when he and home minister P Chidambaram struck a conciliatory note — it seemed to be on everyone’s mind.
Chidambaram started his speech, recalling how he had always spoken of the states’ “frontline” role in internal security, and went on to quote from one of his 2009 speeches to underscore his “firm belief” that the Centre and states could work together to make the country safe.
But it failed calm the opposition CMs. They kept on pounding the Centre, with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi accusing the government of “creating mistrust and suspicion” by “unilaterally” changing the country’s security superstructure.
The opposition CMs insisted the NCTC wasn’t a one-off incident. “I am afraid there is an emerging pattern where powers vested with states are sought to be abrogated,” said Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa. At the conference, she cited the Centre’s decision to hold the Indo-US joint naval exercise off the state’s coast as “unilateral”.
Modi, on the other hand, not only opposed the amendments to give more powers to the Border Security Force and the Railway Protection Force, but also questioned the home ministry’s claim that 97% of intelligence inputs were generated by central agencies.
He demanded a comprehensive white paper on the modalities of intelligence sharing before he went on to blame the Centre for the rift with the army chief.
Naveen Patnaik, the first to question the NCTC’s powers of search, seizure and arrest in states, joined Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, Manik Sarkar of Tripura and Sadananda Gowda of Karnataka to hit out at the centre for not consulting the states on crucial security decisions.
“It is being increasingly felt that the state governments are not being consulted before formulating the policies and making of new laws. Rather, the prepared drafts are sent for their comments,” Chouhan said.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, whose speech was read out at the meeting, also said NCTC “upsets the federal structure of the country”.
With the centre on the firing line, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot stood up for the centre, advising Modi and Jayalalithaa to exercise restraint.
“The language used by the CMs of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu was not correct,” the Congress chief minister said.
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