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One step forward, two steps back

The claim that the National Counter Terrorism Centre violates the principle of federalism is sheer poppycock. Vivek Gumaste writes.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2012 10:40 IST
Vivek Gumaste

To any well-meaning individual it seems like a no-brainer and an easy sell. But that does not seem to be the case. A comprehensive, aggressive effort to stem the terrorism that has ravaged the nation for over two decades is undoubtedly the need of the hour. Yet the move by the Centre to institute the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), an overarching body to oversee and integrate the functioning of the various agencies involved in the battle against terror, has run into rough weather meeting stiff resistance from some chief ministers.

The claim that the imposition of the NCTC on the states violates the principle of federalism is poppycock. Terrorism does not discriminate between federal and state demarcations and there can be no back and forth on the need for an integrated national effort. There may be some merit in Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s contention that the wide-ranging powers invested with the Intelligence Bureau (IB) for arrests and searches through the NCTC under Section 2(e) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967 “can be misused to suit ends that are motivated by reasons other than fighting terrorism.” Even so, it lacks the weightage to be a game changer in this debate.

This imbroglio brings to the fore a devastating national malady: a crippling mental disability that hampers us from taking decisive action. We are pastmasters of vocal ballistics. We indulge in raging inconsequential polemics that drag on interminably. We dilate extensively on constitutional and ethical implications, get distracted by tangents and in the process lose sight of the real issue at hand. The net result is an inability to formulate decisive policies that are physically executable. The very fact that nearly two decades after terror first struck our nation, we continue to fumble in the dark groping for an effective anti-terror policy is ample testimony to the paralysing mental dichotomy that afflicts us.

Discussion is important. Dialogue is a necessary distillation process to arrive at the best solution. But dialogue cannot be mistaken for the end point nor can it mimic the broken gramophone record of yore: incessantly repeating the same lyric without progressing. Debate must lead logically to decisive action that produces tangible results.

Adding fuel to this NCTC fire is another factor: a serious trust deficit for which the UPA has no one to blame but itself. The UPA, on its part, has not covered itself in glory in the fight against terror. Its anti-terror approach has lacked sincerity. It has been being guided more by electoral expediency and political upmanship than by pure national interest. The doublespeak on the Batla House encounter, the hasty rustication of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, without a replacement and attempts to undermine the Gujarat government's anti-terror bill are pointers in this direction.

Additionally, the use of government agencies to put members of the lokpal movement on the backfoot has put a real question mark on its commitment to non-partisan governance. Therefore, it is not surprising that states would view the Centre's latest attempt with unease especially when it provides a clandestine agency like the IB with draconian powers.

Despite the glaring trust deficit and despite the possible scope for potential misuse of the powers delegated to the IB, the CMs would be ill-advised to stall this counter terrorism effort. It cannot be a platform for political grandstanding. We need to move forward, rectifying any shortcomings as we go along; a revised approach is better than the failed measures we have in place. Procrastination only strengthens the hands of the terrorists waiting on the sidelines to launch another attack and the Quislings in our midst who help them.

Vivek Gumaste is a US-based academic and political commentator
The views expressed by the author are personal