The rift between the central government and states over the proposed anti-terror hub NCTC showed no signs of abating Saturday, with all non-Congress ruled states coming out strongly against it despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s strong support for it.
Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P. Chidambaram heard in silence as chief ministers — including Congress ally Mamata Banerjee — fired volleys at the National Counter Terrorism Centre, saying it undermined the states’ police powers.
Chidambaram came under vicious attack from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, who accused the home ministry of treating her with contempt.
The chorus against the NCTC grew louder at a day-long conference of chief ministers convened by Manmohan Singh to dispel fears of state governments that the agency would infringe on their rights.
But within hours it became clear that the prime minister and home minister had failed to allay the apprehensions of the dissenting chief ministers.
Manmohan Singh, who was the second speaker after the home minister, denied there was any attempt to disturb the policing domain of states or the country’s federal structure.
“It is not our intention in any way to affect the distribution of powers between states and the union that our constitution provides,” he said on the formation of NCTC, a pet project of Chidambaram.
Manmohan Singh said the NCTC “is not a state versus centre issue” because its main purpose was to “coordinate counter-terrorism efforts throughout this vast country”.
Chidambaram also put up a strong defence and said the NCTC would be an important pillar of the security infrastructure to thwart terror threats from outside India and in cyber space.
West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and non-Congress chief ministers were not convinced.
They insisted that NCTC, which will have powers to undertake anti-terror operations anywhere in the country, should not be created at all.
Jayalalithaa accused the home ministry of trying to “belittle” the state governments and treating them as “pawns on a chess board” instead of addressing “gaps and deficiencies” in counter terrorism capabilities.
She said the move to accumulate the counter-terrorism powers with the central agency “is preposterous and reveals total lack of understanding of ground realities”.
Gujarat’s Narendra Modi was happy the central government had made some changes in the proposed body but said he was still ranged against it.
State agencies, Modi said, were at the cutting-edge of war against terror and they should not be disturbed.
“The NCTC makes state units totally subservient and kills local initiative. It will create a draconian covert agency with police powers.”
He accused the central government of behaving like “viceroys of yore”, saying the constitution of agency was a “conscious strategy” casting “the central government in the role of omnipresent, omniscient ruler with the states portrayed like dependent vassals.
“Don’t make it a point of prestige. I request the central government to rollback the order.”
Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is the second biggest constituent of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, also spoke against NCTC.
Banerjee said policing should remain with states. “Police functions should remain the prerogative of the state.
“I would, therefore, strongly urge the union government to withdraw the order dated Feb 3 issued by the home ministry for setting up the NCTC.”
Akhilesh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh, whose Samajwadi Party also supports the central government, said the agency was unacceptable in its “present form” because “misuse of clauses (in NCTC) cannot be ruled out”.
Other chief ministers who spoke against NCTC included Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh) and Prakash Singh Badal (Punjab).