“By a quirk of fate,” Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in a December 23 lecture to the Intelligence Bureau, “India in the twenty-first century has turned out to be the confluence of every kind of violence: insurrection or insurgency in order to carve out sovereign states; armed liberation struggle motivated by a rejected ideology; and terrorism driven by religious fanaticism. Never before has the Indian state faced such a formidable challenge.” Drawing on the lessons of the November 2008 carnage in Mumbai, he proposed a new architecture for India’s internal security administration. There would be a single-point source of authority for all counter-terrorism-related issues. Key counter-terrorism elements of organisations as diverse as the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, the National Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Guard would be brought under the supervisory authority of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre. The NCTC, in turn, would be accountable to a Ministry dedicated to internal security — and a Minister with internal security as her or his primary task.

The case for a new administrative architecture for security is compelling. It starts with the identification of a longstanding malaise in India’s security bureaucracy — the use of administrative deux ex machina to evade the kinds of sustained work and attention to detail that are needed to fix deep-rooted problems. The great November 2008 tragedy in Mumbai provides a useful prism to reflect on the problem. India possessed a copious mass of intelligence leads suggesting the Lashkar-e-Taiba was planning an attack on Mumbai. But it failed to capitalise on these leads not because there was no single-point authority but because the intelligence services lacked the necessary technological and human resource capabilities. The Mumbai Police made strenuous efforts to deal with the attacks but clearly lacked the resources and the training. The NSG’s less-than-brilliant response to the fighting stemmed from poor training and leadership issues. None of these failures, and others too numerous to enumerate here, have been properly audited by an independent, public enquiry. Even had there been an NCTC in place during the Mumbai terror attacks, it would have lacked the capabilities to handle events with any greater efficiency than what was on display. Setting up an NCTC and an Internal Security Ministry may facilitate the development of capabilities to face the challenges the Home Minister has described. But without a highly professional and dispassionate assessment of precisely what India’s security weaknesses are, and how they must be addressed, the creation of new administrative machinery will achieve little.

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