The Government is ready with a bill to set up a new National Investigative Agency to deal with terrorism, but the big challenge remains of forging a political consensus to get the legislation past Parliament.
Wednesday held out hope for the government that the audacious Mumbai attacks may help mellow the opposition to a central agency that state governments and regional parties believe tramples on their jurisdiction.
Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj announced the government was ready with the draft bill to create the agency to deal exclusively with terrorism.
“It will be introduced in this session,” he told reporters.
The final draft of the legislation defines terrorism as a threat to national security, empowering Parliament to legislate on the subject. This will ensure that the law will not need to be vetted by state governments before it comes into effect.
State governments have steadfastly opposed the creation of a powerful agency that could be used against them.
The Mumbai attack two weeks back and the public outrage against the political class seems to have had some effect.
At separate meetings with Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday, chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Manipur extended their support to create a specialised agency at the Centre to investigate terror-related offences that security experts like former Intelligence Bureau chief Arun Bhagat have advocated.
“I said if you can come up with something like this, it will be a very good thing,” Andhra Chief Minister Y.S.R. Reddy said.
Andhra Pradesh and Manipur were among the two-dozen states like BJP-ruled Gujarat and the Congress-ruled Delhi that had unequivocally rejected proposals for a central agency.
The decision to set up a central agency is expected to figure in Parliament on Thursday when Chidambaram makes a statement on the Mumbai attacks. He has been conscious of the potential opposition to the move and had already reached out to the BJP seeking its support on the issue.
The BJP agreed to support the agency, but wanted a strong anti-terror law along with it. It remains to be seen how the government would balance this demand.
The Left, however, is still non-committal. “We recognise the requirement for improvement in coordination between the intelligence and security agencies, but the federal structure of the constitution cannot be violated,” said senior CPM leader Sitaram Yechury.
He said the party would only take a final decision after seeing the blueprint on the issue.
The Samajwadi Party, which holds the key to the UPA government’s survival, has backed the new agency if there is consensus. “We favour the federal investigative agency, but for this a consensus should be there,” general secretary Amar Singh said.