New Delhi: The Centre and State must work hand in hand on internal security as the country battles terror from across the border, Left Wing extremism and religious violence: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's appeal to Chief Ministers at a meeting he is chairing in the capital today. His Home Minister P Chidambaram, who has convened the meeting, underscored, "There is no conflict between central and state forces." (Highlights: PM, Chidambaram address chief ministers' meet)
West Bengal Chief Minister and UPA ally Mamata Banerjee is the only CM not attending today's meeting on internal security. But other non-Congress CMs who have been vocal about their opposition to the Centre's proposal to set up the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) are seated, have circulated copies of strong speeches that they plan to make raising the issue, and also plan to meet separately later.
The key agenda of the chief ministers' meeting convened by Home Minister P Chidambaram is the strengthening of anti-terror capabilities and intelligence, Maoist violence, police reforms and capacity building. The NCTC will be discussed today, but a separate meeting of chief ministers on that controversial issue has also been called on May 5, at the instance of CMs like Tamil Nadu's J Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee, who will attend that meeting.
At 3 pm today, on the sidelines of Mr Chidambaram's meeting, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and Ms Jayalalithaa met at the Tamil Nadu Bhawan in what is being seen as some muscle flexing. Mr Patnaik, though, dubbed it as a "courtesy call" at the end of the meeting. (Read)
Each of these CMs have written to the Prime Minister, some repeatedly, against the proposed anti-terror body NCTC, saying it steps on the toes of states and as such violates the federal structure that the Indian Constitution provides for. Mamata Banerjee has spearheaded that protest, even arm-twisting the government she partners to promise in Parliament that no further steps will be taken on the NCTC without a thorough discussion with chief ministers. Her absence from the internal security meeting today thus will cause some embarrassment for the Centre. For today, Ms Banerjee has sent her Finance Minister for the meeting and has reiterated, "The proposed anti-terror body upsets the federal structure." Lest her views on internal security be missed, she also said, "Left Wing extremism has serious implications on national security."
Left Wing Extremism in fact too was the top priority in the speeches of both Mr Chidambaram and Dr Manmohan Singh this morning. He said, "Left wing extremism is the biggest threat to country. There is consensus on two-pronged approach; police action and developmental work." He also kick started today's meeting with an opening address that, apart from an overview of the security situation in the state, includes an assurance to states that there is no, "One half of the cases were solved by the joint efforts of Centre and states. On the operational level, there is no conflict between central and state agencies." (Watch)
The PM, while inaugurating the meeting, said, "Threats from Left Wing Extremism require constant vigil...I am glad you are devoting a separate session on Left Wing Extremism." (Full text of PM's speech)
"The Centre will continue its support to capacity building and police modernisation efforts by the States. State governments are the primary responders in most internal security situations," said the PM.
The NCTC is a pet project of the Home Minister, who has passionately advocated the need for the anti-terror organization and has sought to allay the fears of 10 Chief Ministers who have been vocal in their opposition by assuring them that the government intends to work with states on battling terrorism.
In his speech today, a copy of which has been circulated, Odisha Naveen Patnaik has made clear that the NCTC is all-important and that states must be consulted on important decisions. "The discussion on NCTC has been delayed dangerously. As you know we have had a crisis involving the abduction of an MLA and two Italian nationals by left-wing extremists and this delay will only further aggravate such problems. I hope that the issue of consultation with the states is addressed seriously in the meeting scheduled for May 5."
Gujarat's Mr Modi's strongly-worded speech reads, "Internal security is too serious a matter to be treated as an arena for one-upmanship by the Union Govt...State Governments face the brunt of problems related to internal security and must be treated as partners." The copy released also says, "I would like to draw attention to the increasing politicization of CBI to harass and victimize political rivals," and raises the point of defence preparedness saying, "Union Government has failed to instill faith and confidence about our Defence Preparedness in the common man..."
It is expected to be a stormy meeting with chief ministers likely to take on the government on at least two crucial issues - the Centre's proposal to grant powers to arrest to the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Railway Protection Force (RPF). At this point, both central forces do not possess the right to arrest and any move to the contrary is not acceptable to state governments. The Centre is expected to express its concern at the issue of rising Maoist activity and violence in the affected states. With the government pumping in massive funds into states in aiding anti-Maoist operations, it is expected to demand answers on the slow pace of police modernisation in the states.