Analysis

NCTC Meeting: A Political & Diplomatic Show

As expected, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the day-long meeting of Chief Ministers held earlier this month to discuss the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) ended without any consensus between various state governments and the Centre on their respective stands towards this issue. At most, in their speeches, the chief ministers gave different suggestions on strengthening the country’s counter-terrorism apparatus. State governments are apprehensive about NCTC undermining the country’s federal structure, encroaching on powers of state authorities which, in the perspective of most, will not help the country or the people but can further add to problems linked with terrorism.

Not surprisingly, it is now being debated as to what prompted the Centre to come up with such a proposal. In this context, some importance should be given to the timing of this meeting and a few points made by Home Minister P. Chidambaram. The meeting was held on the 5th of May, shortly ahead of the arrival of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the capital city. During his concluding remarks, Chidambaram drew specific attention to, as pointed out by a chief minister, “borrowing the language of the NCTC in the US…” Elaborating on this, he said: “What we need is a counter-terrorism organisation that mobilises all elements of national power - diplomatic, financial, investigative, judicial, police. So we need to move beyond looking upon counter-terrorism as a police operation and enlarge our scope to make it a truly counter-terrorism organisation that will mobilise all elements of national power.”

The timing of the meeting and reference to the US by Chidambaram naturally raises the question as to whether the one-day show’s significance was nothing more than a diplomatic and political gimmick. Considering that the Centre has started giving some importance to the idea of NCTC only recently, it would have been more appropriate to hold this meeting after having discussed the issue with each chief minister separately. Bringing them together to a common platform, without having given substantial importance to the stand of each on this highly controversial issue, only adds to the view that the meeting was not probably convened for sake of taking a serious stand on NCTC. Nevertheless, diplomatically and politically, the meeting was viewed as important to convey the message that India is paying serious attention to counter-terrorism.

 Chidambaram’s comments succeeded in conveying the message that United States’ NCTC is a model for Indian NCTC. A few harsh critics of NCTC have pointed out that even United States NCTC does not have legal powers which its Indian form has. Criticizing it, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar pointed out: “Even NCTC of USA, which is the model for Indian NCTC, does not have such legal powers of seizure, arrest etc.”

There is yet another side to this one-day drama that cannot be sidelined. The opposition voiced by state governments rests primarily on their concern over their powers being encroached upon by NCTC. Undeniably, while referring to security agencies’ failure to take timely action, Chidambaram pointed out that most of these cases “concerned so-called jihadi terrorists and cadres of CPI (Maoist).” This implies that central government is seriously concerned about lapses in countering terrorism where “so-called jihadis” and Naxalites are involved. It is intriguing that the central government has not displayed similar concern regarding terrorist-incidents for which members of the Saffron brigade (Sangh Parivar) have been held as responsible. Should this be viewed as a biased approach held by the Central government towards linking Muslims with terrorism and sparing non-Muslims, even when there prevails ample evidence against the latter being responsible for many terrorist incidents? Isn’t this suggestive of a grievous lapse in the approach of the Centre, which needs to be corrected?

Indeed, it is ironical that while Prime Minister and Home Minister strongly referred to measures that need to be undertaken to counter terrorism at various levels, including cyber-terrorism, they ignored shortcomings in the present policy, which need to be corrected. Yes, this refers to numerous cases of fake encounters, in which usually innocent Muslims have been targeted. There are also numerous incidents of innocent Muslims being held as suspect terrorists, not on ground of their actual involvement in any terrorist-case but primarily because of their religious identity. Isn’t it time that central and state governments paid adequate attention to correcting the biased approach held by police and other officers against Muslims?

 Besides, there has been no report on day-long meeting referring to compensating Muslims and/or their families who have been killed in fake encounters and/or have been wrongly held as suspect terrorists. One has no objection to measures the Centre and state governments may consider seriously to counter terrorism. Yet, equal attention must be paid to correcting lapses in their present approach of countering terrorism, the worst sufferers of which have been Muslims. This issue must be paid serious attention even when such meetings’ significance is held to be nothing more than a political gimmick or a diplomatic show!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2012 on page no. 11

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