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NCTC Dispute Baby And The Bathwater

Updated: March 10, 2012 4:57 pm

Twelve Chief Ministers have got together to oppose the Union Government’s move to create the National Counter Terrorism centre (NCTC) to fight terrorism. The CMs complain that the centre will violate federalism through the provisions of the proposed body by infringing on the powers of the states. Law and order is a state subject. Home Minister Mr P Chidambaram pointed out that internal security was a “shared responsibility” between the centre and the states. He said the Constitution “assigns law and order and the police to the State government but also assigns the Central government the responsibility of protecting every part of India from external aggression and internal disturbance under Article 355”.

However, if there is shared responsibility between the centre and states should not the creation of NCTC have also implied shared consultation? This never happened. The Central government erred on procedure. The states have understandably objected. However, it would be tragic if the states because of Mr Chidambaram’s mishandling block the creation of NCTC. Terrorism is a real nationwide threat. It would be a pity if the states do not acknowledge this and end up by throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Clearly what is required is reappraisal of the proposed NCTC after fresh discussion between the Centre and the states. According to security analyst Mr B Raman the government has deviated from the American institution from which it drew inspiration. The American body does not have the power to arrest, interrogate or prosecute as would the Indian model. Mr Raman has pointed out that NCTC’s powers, which violate federalism, would seriously impede investigation. Parallel powers exercised by the state body and central body would not help investigation but create confusion and chaos. It is welcome that the states have united on the issue of federalism to oppose the Centre’s bulldozing. But it is not enough to oppose the Centre’s usurpation of power. The states must present a suitable alternate mechanism for monitoring NCTC after shared consultation.


Barring unforeseen developments it is reasonably certain that after the assembly election results are out there will be a serious effort to create a new national alternative. The united move by chief ministers against the centre’s high handedness related to the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) issue provides a clear indication. The centre’s abuse of federalism is just one issue that has caused resentment against the UPA government. The NDA would be greatly mistaken to rely upon getting automatic endorsement because of the UPA’s failure, as happened in the past. The country needs a genuine change and the chief ministers have correctly gauged the popular mood. The NDA does not offer hope of genuine change. Genuine change implies assured stability and good governance. That will be ensured not by the return of the NDA but the revival of the Janata experiment of 1977 in a new avatar.

Chief Ministers of the BJP have all endorsed their colleagues in other states by opposing the centre on the NCTC proposal. This gives the BJP a real opportunity to recreate a single party national alternative for the first time after the Janata experiment failed because both the government and the party at that time were led by ex-Congressmen. They failed to keep the organization united. If a genuine alternative does emerge, thanks to the initiative of some chief ministers, it cannot be ruled out that BJP elements could defect. The arrogance about being too disciplined for that to happen should by now have evaporated among the Sangh Parivar leaders. The record of Mr. Kalyan Singh and Ms. Uma Bharati reveal only the tip of the iceberg.

However, for the BJP to enter into the new alternative in its entirety would call for statesmanship. If the BJP stoops to conquer it could hugely benefit itself and the rest of the opposition. To recreate the Janata experiment in a new avatar a federal party would have to be created. Meaning that while the state parties might retain their separate identities during the first phase, there would have to be a single party fighting under a common symbol for parliament. The Election Commission forbids dual membership for any legislator. This hurdle can be overcome by each state unit, whether of a regional party or the BJP, by selecting candidates for the election from each respective state as per the norms determined by the Parliamentary Board of the federal party. Thereby no party would lose its recognition. The state parties would continue to be recognised as state parties. The BJP would retain recognition as a national party because of its strength in several states.

As elected MPs the winners would become members of the federal party and technically renounce their membership of the parent party. There is no impediment to members of all parties to attend the meetings of such a federal party as special invitees. They could address the meetings without having the right to vote. For all practical purposes therefore in the first phase of the evolving federal party the views of the affiliate parties would get due recognition without being technically its members.

The BJP would defuse any inhibitions against it by accepting two norms for the creation of the proposed alternative. It must shed its mindset that is similar to the Congress by failing to give weight to the popular view of the rank and file. Need one remind that in the 2009 general election Mr. LK Advani actually urged the voters in Haryana to vote for the Congress rather than Mr. Chautala’s party which had been its alliance partner? Need one remind that Mr. Advani actually offered a letter of apology to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi after a BJP leader justifiably asked her to explain the credible allegations against her of an illegal foreign bank account?

Therefore, firstly the BJP should not insist upon anyone to be the leader of the parliamentary party. All the MPs hailing from different parent parties would have to democratically elect the leader most acceptable to them. Secondly, the BJP would have to be flexible in the choice of the common symbol. It must be prepared to give up its symbol for the parliamentary poll in favour of whatever symbol, most likely a new symbol, which all parties might choose. As for a radical and meaningful common poll agenda that ushers in genuine systemic reform, its preparation should present no hurdle. If the BJP plays ball it can help create another single party alternative that might rule the centre. Will the BJP dare to stoop and conquer?                                     (RP)

Writing earlier on a proposal to create a new national alternative before Mr Naveen Patnaik raised the current NCTC issue to forge potentially a new federal alliance, I wrote in these columns that “if the federal principle implied in our Constitution deserves compliance, so does the pro-active role of the President enshrined in it. Only the authority of an executive President at the centre balanced by decentralised governance at the grassroots can ensure national unity and federal democracy at the same time”.

Gujarat Chief Minister Mr Narendra Modi has suggested that the Centre should call a meeting of all the state governments to discuss centre-state relations in the light of the recommendations by the Sarkaria Commission. But why call an ad hoc meeting yet again to address a problem that keeps recurring? One suggests to Mr Modi and all the other chief ministers to follow their protest against the Centre to its logical end by seeking permanent systemic reform for ensuring federalism in governance.

Such reform would be achieved by implementing the neglected provisions of our Constitution. Article 263 of the Constitution related to the Inter-State Council reads: “If at any time it appears to the President that the public interests would be served by the establishment of a Council charged with the duty of

(a) inquiring into and advisingupon disputes which may have arisen between states;

(b) investigating and discussing subjects in which some or all of the States, or the Union and one or more of the States, have a common interest; or

(c) making recommendations upon any such subject and, in particular, recommendations for the better co-ordination of policy and action with respect to that subject.”

Does this unused Article of the Constitution not offer a permanent mechanism to deal with the recurring problem of centre-state relations? There is a crucial rider of course. The Inter-State Council obviously cannot be headed by the Prime Minister whose mandate is limited to the Lower House of Parliament. It is only the President who has the electoral mandate of both Houses of Parliament and all the state legislatures in the country. The Council would have to be headed by the President.

That would open a can of worms for our politicians wedded to the presently distorted interpretation of the Constitution. If the President’s pro-active role in the functioning of the Inter-State Council is accepted, it would open the door to reappraising all the presently neglected and unused powers of the President. That would change the system, not by violating the Constitution but by following it in letter and in spirit. Are all the chief ministers clamouring for justice prepared to go the whole hog to genuinely reform the system and establish true federalism?

 By Rajinder Puri




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