People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 09

February 26, 2012





Targeting Terrorism, or Federalism?


THE UPA-2 government’s unilateral decision announcing the formation of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) has rightly evoked indignation by opposition ruled state governments, including some of the UPA allies, as yet another encroachment on the rights of the states.  This has triggered a fresh debate over centre-state relations. 


The UPA-2 government needs to be reminded, unfortunately, that the first clause of our constitution defines our country as “India, that is, Bharat is a Union of States”.   The federal structure of our constitution flows from this definition and has been upheld by the apex court  as a basic feature of our constitution.  Over the years, there has been a steady erosion of the rights of the states and the federal character of our constitution is being, slowly but steadily, converted into a unitary state structure. 


As early as in 1977, when the first Left Front government assumed office in West Bengal with Jyoti Basu as the chief minister, a 15-point charter of demands for restructuring centre-state relations in accordance with the spirit and content of our constitution was submitted to the central government.  This initiative was followed by a series of conclaves on centre-state relations with the participation of a host of non-Congress chief ministers in 1983.  The first of these was hosted by the then chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah.  As a result of these efforts, the Sarkaria Commission on centre-state relations was formed in 1983 and submitted its report in 1988.  Much of its recommendations continue to remain gathering dust in the files of the central government.  After the formation of the UPA-I government with the crucial outside support of the Left parties, the M M Punchhi Commission was appointed in April 2007 on this issue.  It has submitted a report in 2010, but neither an informed debate took place on its recommendations nor has anything substantial been implemented. 


In an effort to allay the present genuine concerns over the NCTC, the prime minister intervened and attempted to assure the state governments that this anti-terror body does not infringe on the rights of the states. In a letter to seven chief ministers, the PM said that “In forming  the NCTC, it is not the government’s intent in any way  to affect the basic features of the constitutional provisions and allocation of power between the states and the union.”  Explaining the need to coordinate counter-terrorism efforts throughout the country, the PM said that “It is for this reason that the NCTC has been located within the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and not as a separate organisation”. 


The prime minister, thus, contradicts himself in his explanation for the setting up of this new agency.  If the IB is already doing this job, why is there a  need for this additional supra body?   This UPA government itself had, in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks, constituted the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) which was unanimously enacted by the parliament.  Why then a need for an additional body?


During the discussions on the NIA in the parliament, the Left parties had raised genuine concerns on the rights of the states  with whom the constitution exclusively vests the right of `law and order’, the conduct of criminal investigation and the delivery of criminal justice.  The parliament was assured by the union home minister then, that on the basis of the experience of the first six months, the issue will be revisited by the parliament, on this score.  This, however, has never happened.  


In the light of this, the setting up of the NCTC, therefore, raises genuine doubts and concerns about its real objectives.  The task of the intelligence agencies, throughout their historical evolution and experience of other democracies in the world, is to gather  information that the police can use for criminal investigation and delivery of justice.  It is not the mandate of the intelligence agencies to do the job of policing.  By giving the NCTC the authority  and powers to conduct searches and arrests, this distinction between intelligence gathering and policing  gets blurred to the extent of opening up manifold avenues for abuses. Such has been the experience of many modern democracies including that of the FBI in the USA.  In the Indian context, this has the additional attribute of infringing upon the federal structure of our constitution and the rights of the states.   Further, the track record of the IB in India, its notorious record of political surveillance, strengthens such genuine concerns of the states.


Once again, the urgency and haste with which this UPA government announced this decision of the formation of the NCTC appears more under the pressure of commitments to the United States of America than the genuine concerns for curbing terrorism in the country.  This is, indeed, most unfortunate.  Following the Mumbai terror attacks, the Indian home minister undertook a visit to the USA  which, according to a  press release of the ministry of home affairs, was “aimed at carrying forward the dialogue with the USA …understanding the counter terrorism institutions and structures in USA …” and meeting senior officials involved in security and intelligence matters.  In July 2010, prime minister Manmohan Singh and US president Obama signed a Counter Terrorism Cooperation Initiative.  This was followed up by an announcement of a new Homeland Security Dialogue  in November 2010.  On May 27, 2011, this Dialogue was launched by the union home minister and the US department homeland security secretary.


As a result of these initiatives, which is part of the strategic partnership with the USA, which actually began under the Vajpayee led NDA government and carried forward vigorously by the UPA, the US Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) has conducted 79 police training courses for over 1500 Indian law enforcement officials, according to an US Embassy release in New Delhi.


The Indian parliament reflecting the opinion of the Indian people, stood up as one man to support the government on all initiatives to rid the country of this anti-national scourge of terrorism, of all hues and varieties. It unanimously enacted the NIA and other necessary legislations to empower the government agencies to do this job effectively.  This, however, cannot be hijacked by the government as permission to allow the penetration of the US agencies into our security apparatus.  Neither can this be interpreted as the license to reproduce the US institutional structure in India.  Apart from all other major differences in the content and character of the State structure in India and the USA, the emulation of the notorious conduct of US agencies in the name of curbing terrorism (the inhuman experiences of torture of the inmates in the USA’s Guantanamo prison alone is a chilling testimony of this) would be simply disastrous for India, its democracy and the basic features of its constitution. 


On all these counts, it is imperative that this UPA-2 government must be forced to convene a special session of the Inter State Council, that is today lying dormant, to discuss this issue and subject the NCTC to a thorough discussion in the parliament. 


(February 22, 2012)