After the bomb blasts in Hyderabad last month, Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde resurrected the idea of establishing a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) for undertaking investigations of terrorist attacks across India. He argued, as his predecessor P Chidambaram had done, that terrorism was a national threat and it was imperative that a national agency with necessary powers and resources should be in place.
This proposal of the central government has been stoutly opposed by chief ministers such as Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar, and also by BJP leader Arun Jaitley. Their opposition is guided by apprehensions that this agency would lead to the erosion of the autonomy of state governments, which are constitutionally mandated to make arrangements for dealing with law and order situations.
There is considerable evidence that exposes the anti-federal postures of these self-appointed federalists. At the drop of a that, chief ministers ask the central government to assist them in maintaining law and order. To cite a recent example, Akhilesh Yadav, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has asked for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the killing of a police official because the people of his state do not expect fair investigations by the local police. This is not the first time that such a thing has happened. Do the chief ministers then forget their constitutional mandate and autonomy? The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is routinely asked by state governments to take over the responsibility of handling anti-terrorist cases. The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh has asked for an NIA investigation into the Hyderabad blasts case.
Also, in the past 65 years, Parliament has enacted special laws like the Preventive Detention Act, Defence of India Act, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act, or Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for the benefit of state governments. Have the states asked for the rescinding of these laws?
While the champions of state autonomy should be able to organise assembly elections with their own administrative and police organisations, free, fair and fearless elections are held under the supervision of central paramilitary forces. Narendra Modi, the man who provides ‘model governance to his state’, required 493 companies of central forces for the Gujarat elections, which took place in December.
Instead of fighting phoney battles of jurisdiction with the Centre, the state governments should strengthen their own administrative apparatus to deal with local challenges. If nine states are affected by well-armed left-wing extremism, they have to coordinate with the Centre to match the power of the extremists’ gun. Terrorism, extremism or communal riots have transcended state boundaries and the central government has to be empowered to intervene, of course, with the support of the state governments. This point alone is sufficient defence for National Counter Terrorism Centre.
CP Bhambhri taught politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal