The clamour against the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) seems to be intensifying with chief ministers opposing the new counter-terror body taking round two of their protest to the Prime Minister.
After Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, now Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has written a second letter to the PM voicing her concerns over the proposed project. In her letter, Ms Jayalalithaa has demanded that "the objectionable memorandum" be withdrawn immediately. Like Mr Patnaik, she too has urged the Centre to urgently initiate a process of consultation with state governments.
In her first letter to the PM written earlier this month, Ms Jayalalithaa had said that the proposed body suffered from "deficiencies" and has provisions that tantamount to usurping the legitimate rights of the states.
The National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) was meant to become operational on March 1. But the project, that has topped Home Minister P Chidambaram's priority list since 26/11, has outraged every non-Congress government in the country, as well as Mamata Banerjee, who is a senior partner in the UPA government at the Centre. Besides Ms Banerjee, Ms Jayalalithaa and Mr Patnaik, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh, and Mani Sarkar who heads the Left government in Tripura, too have joined the chorus against the NCTC. They say they believe that the new anti-terror hub has been given sweeping powers that violate the principles of federalism.
But their public opposition has not gone down well with the government. Reacting to the matter, Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said the chief minsters should have had a dialogue with the Centre before going public with their displeasure.
"I think what needs to be done is to have a quiet dialogue and a deliberation with the central government on these issues. What seems to me a bit odd is that each of the Chief Ministers are going on camera and making some very strident statements. The way to deal with this is to have dialogue...tell the central government about your fears and get a response and then take a position on it," Mr Sibal said.
Together with Naveen Patnaik of Odisha, Ms Banerjee has fronted the campaign that finds the new agency's powers trespass into the area of law and order reserved for state governments. "The creation of NCTC is highly-flawed in as much as it has been very surprisingly created within the Intelligence Bureau which is a secret intelligence organisation without any accountability to parliament....is it not an established principle that secret intelligence are never given the powers of arrest? Not even the British, during their rule of India, gave the powers of arrest and search to the IB," Mr Kumar wrote in his letter to the PM. Refuting allegations by senior ministers that he is trying to "politicize the campaign against terror," Mr Patnaik's new letter to the PM (he sent one last week as well) said, "I am surprised to have received no response from your office or the Ministry of Home Affairs...the Order, with modifications as necessary, should come into force only after due consultations."
Mr Patnaik and Ms Banerjee last week described the NCTC's powers as draconian and asked the Prime Minister to withdraw the executive order that outlines its rights and reach. Their counterparts from Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Tripura have agreed with this interpretation. Its current mandate allows the NCTC to swoop into any state, arrest suspects and fly them out of the state; it will not be obliged to consult the local government.
The government has so far been stressing that the NCTC has been formed under an existing law - the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967 and that the first chapter of the act clearly explains that it applies to the whole country. While technically this may be correct, the failure of the Centre has been a giant political misstep. State governments were not consulted before the anti-terrorism Centre was notified. In the next few days, the Centre is expected to reach out to state governments to pacify them, but it's not clear yet if the Prime Minister's Office or the Home Ministry will be assigned to this emergency drill.
The Congress also has to contend with this latest confrontation with Ms Banerjee, who seems to have formed a habit of taking on the UPA publicly over important new policies. In this latest face-off, allies like the DMK and Farooq Abdullah's National Conference have asked the Centre to ensure the rights of states are not violated.