That an item not supposed to be on the agenda could cast a long shadow on the meeting of Chief Ministers called by the Centre to discuss internal security speaks poorly of the status of Centre-State relations in the country. Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his opening remarks announced that a separate meeting would be held to discuss the controversial proposal to set up a National Counter-Terrorism Centre, some of the Chief Ministers were sufficiently ill-at-ease with the proposal to feel compelled to bring up this very issue. What hogged the attention was not Kashmir, North-East, Left-wing extremism, communalism, or terrorism but the Centre's perceived encroachment on State powers. Prime Minister Singh conceded that the “burden of the fight against terrorism” falls largely on the States. The proper course, then, would have been to provide the State police forces with the equipment, training and manpower to undertake this fight, and not to unilaterally move on an NCTC with a nationwide mandate and wide powers. At the meeting, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram drew attention to the existing coordination with the States in tackling terrorism, and to the absence of any conflict between the Central agencies and the State police forces at the “operational level.” But what he did not touch upon was the absence of political consultations on matters related to national security. For many of the non-Congress Chief Ministers, the motives of the Centre on this front are suspect.
However, State governments also need to introspect. Many have often misused the police for political ends, sabotaging investigations in crimes involving the rich and powerful or initiating cases against political rivals. The Narendra Modi government in Gujarat is a case in point: many of the victims of the 2002 post-Godhra riots had to approach the highest court in their effort to get justice. In Odisha, the violence against Christians in 2008 exposed the state of policing in the State. In Bihar, sloppy investigation and prosecution in the 1996 carnage of Dalits in Bathani Tola has now resulted in the acquittal of all the 23 accused by the Patna High Court. Clearly, State governments, whether of the Congress or the non-Congress variety, have been no different when it comes to employing security agencies under their command for partisan, political ends. Security is too serious an issue to be turned into a political football. Instead of pointing fingers, the Centre and the States need to step up coordination at all levels to neutralise the threats the country faces.