The anti-terrorism center was supposed to give authorities sweeping powers to search, interrogate and arrest suspects across India. But it has become embroiled in a face-off between the national government in New Delhi and the increasingly querulous governments of some states that are trying to protect the autonomy of their police forces.
The impasse not only weakens India’s effort to mount a coordinated campaign against terrorism, but also reflects the growing power of regional parties that is making the country increasingly tough to govern, analysts say.
As India and the United States step up their counterterrorism cooperation through training and joint exercises, India’s disjointed response to national security runs the risk of crippling the counterterrorism campaign in this volatile region.
“The Mumbai attacks demonstrated that business as usual cannot continue and the need for a consolidated national effort,” said Paul Kapur, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “The states on their own do not have the mindset and resources to deal with this. The next big terror attack may be even more provocative than the ones in Mumbai and may lead to international conflict. That is not lost on people here” in the United States.
But the fractious nature of Indian politics is such that chief ministers from 12 states have established a formidable coalition since February to oppose the setting up of the NCTC, the umbrella organization.
“We were not consulted about the NCTC, which will have the power to raid and search anywhere and arrest anybody it suspects, without the permission of state governments,” said Sultan Ahmad, a lawmaker with the Trinamool Congress, a regional party from the eastern state of West Bengal. “We want to fight terrorism, but we do not want a body that will infringe upon our freedom to govern our states.”
‘A huge trust deficit’
Analysts say the stalemate is another example of the dwindling credibility of the national government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which is constantly entangled in messy, public disagreements with not only its opponents but also its coalition allies. Similar confrontations with regional parties have delayed economic decisions and anti-corruption laws in recent months.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram said this month that an umbrella organization is long overdue because India is the target of several militant groups and that “al-Qaeda’s shadow falls in this area.” The government says it has broken up 51 terrorism cells and foiled 43 plots since the Mumbai attacks in 2008.