The Politics of Security
May 10, 2012
Last month was witness to a bitter tussle between the Federal Government and the states over issues of homeland security. The Prime Minister had a meeting with the Chief Ministers of various states on internal security (as it is better known in India) last month, followed by a special, and rather tumultuous Chief Ministers’ conclave on the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) last week.
One of the key reasons cited by experts on why plans for overhauling the Indian internal security apparatus remain stalled is that a silo-like approach to thinking about homeland security still exists. Unless this changes, not much will change on the ground. At the same time, the Government of India (GOI) announced the intention to bring all states on board with some of its more ambitious plans like the centrally integrated and networked intelligence database NATGRID and the NCTC.
India’s internal security imperatives
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held meeting of all state Chief Ministers in New Delhi last month on April 16. Some of the broad internal security issues that various Indian states are grappling with include: continued regional insecurity; cross border terrorism; left-wing extremism; covert support to secessionists and insurgents; rampant arms smuggling; circulation of fake Indian currency; inflow of refugees and illegal immigration across porous borders. Complicating this further is the presence of the Armed Forces in troubled states such as Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur, where popular discontent has been brewing over overarching powers granted to the Army via the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Over 60 percent of India’s districts are affected by left-wing extremism or Maoist/ Naxalite violence, as it is widely known. Combined with issues of under-development, internal migration, varying impacts of climate change and the imperatives of implementing centrally-funded social sector schemes, a combination of factors lend urgency to each state government’s list of priorities.
The elusive search for consensus
But many of the UPA government’s ambitious plans for overhauling the internal security apparatus are stuck in jurisdictional issues between the Centre and state governments, especially those led by opposition parties and coalition partners of the UPA alike.
According to the Home Minister, P Chidambaram, four National Security Guard (NSG) hubs have been operationalised, along with various National Investigation Agency (NIA) branch offices and Multi-Agency Centres (MACs). But the ambitious NATGRID is still a work in progress and though the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network (CCTNS) is under implementation since 2010, only 16 states have completed the task (out of a total of 35 states and Union Territories), and work on it is running almost a year behind schedule. The latest furor over the NCTC is symptomatic on the long road ahead for India’s homeland security apparatus.
The National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC)
The National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) is a proposed federal anti-terror organisation, mirroring the NCTC in the US. The proposal gained traction after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, to address the need for real-time intelligence gathering, better inter-state and inter-agency coordination and concerted action for the prevention of future attacks. State governments (in this case that of Maharashtra) were blamed for their failure to act upon intelligence reports and tip-offs that they, in turn, dubbed as too vague to demand action.
The NCTC is close to the heart of Mr. Chidambaram, who took over as Home Minister just after the Mumbai attacks and has been passionately advocating the need for an apparatus that can make sense of diffused intelligence inputs and provide focal points for action at different stages. Though he has repeatedly assured state governments that there is no conflict between them and the Union government, the states see the powers of the NCTC as impinging upon their own authorities, since law and order is a ‘state subject’.
The counter-terrorism agency will derive its powers from the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967, and will be put under the overall control of the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Among other provisions, it will include power to carry out searches, issue warrants and make arrests across India, without prior consent of the state governments, in the broader interest of preventing terror attacks. This has also emerged as one of its most contentious provisions, as many non-Congress Party-ruled states feel that this is a backdoor attempt to curtail their independence and is a means to subvert the overall federal structure of India. Citing vital differences in the federal structures of India and the US, they are demanding a serious re-think on the powers that will ultimately be granted to the NCTC, while demanding in-built checks and balances.
The opposition to the NCTC is merely symptomatic of one of the major hurdles to any reform in the security apparatus – the difficulty of getting state governments on board. Take some of the reactions to other changes that are being sought by the UPA. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, criticized the Centre for its “non-consultative” approach with state governments on key security issues. He has accused the Centre of creating a “state within a state” by amending key acts related to the paramilitary forces, which take away powers from state police and ‘meddle’ with subjects under the state list.
National security has always proven to be a unifying force in the hurly-burly of Indian politics. This is what makes the crescendo of dissent all the more reflective of the UPA government’s inability to forge a working consensus, even among its allies. The apparent backing down by the Centre, in its promise to involve the state police forces and top cops, is a late realisation of the need to get things off the ground in the face of a worsening internal security situation.
At the end of the day, hope lies in the fact that there is finally an open debate on long-pending decisions like the operationalization of the NCTC. A successful dialogue might pave the way for other contentious decisions that have less to do with the politics of the day.
- Preeti Singh