Centralisation is not a silver bullet. Citizens will get internal security only when they demand it from their elected representatives.
In this month’s issue of Pragati, Ajit Kumar Doval, former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, argues that the “structural architecture of India’s legal-constitutional framework” poses a challenge to evolving a national counter-terrorism policy. He points out that
(While) national security, including internal security, is the responsibility of the Centre, most of the instruments—like powers to maintain law and order, the criminal administration system, police and prisons—are controlled by the constituent states. The states, keen to preserve their turf and apprehensive of the central government’s political interference are unwilling to provide any space to the Centre that could empower it to take direct action in security related matters. This renders the task of a holistic tackling of internal security threats difficult.
While the states lack capabilities to cope with these threats on their own they are unwilling to allow any direct intervention by the Centre. This seriously limits the Centre’s ability to formulate, execute, monitor and resource national counter terrorist policies in an effective and comprehensive manner.[Ajit K Doval/Pragati]
It is tempting to see a solution in shifting the responsibility to the central government. The new National Investigating Agency (a poor choice of words, “investigations” would have been better) that is now in the process of being instituted is likely to take this route. Now, it makes sense to charge a central agency with the mandate to investigate inter-state crimes like terrorism, drug trafficking and counterfeiting. But the need for a new agency was debatable—and because the parliament passed it in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, it did not sufficiently debate this. Couldn’t the existing Central Bureau of Investigation have been given additional responsibilities, powers, resources and most importantly, independence?
While central agencies have a role to play, it is the police forces of the states that are on the frontline in the battle against terrorists. Literally, as Mumbai showed. So improving the quality of local policing and equipping them for the twenty-first century is the main act. Seductive as it is to push policing to the central government, it insidiously changes the centre-state balance. This is undesirable in principle, at least not without careful debate. But it is also dangerous: just imagine a scenario where policing is fully centralised and another Shivraj Patil is in charge.
Even financing police (linkthanks PE)through the central government’s funds carries a moral hazard—states are likely to abdicate their fiscal responsibility (or rather, never develop such a responsibility at all), and with it, begin to point fingers at New Delhi for their own failures. Citizens must hold their MLAs and state governments accountable for maintaining law and order. Central overreach disrupts this basic constitutional relationship of democratic accountability.
India didn’t suffer from this campaign of terrorist attacks because it lacked a NIA. The proximate cause is a grand mismanagement of internal security under an incompetent home minister and an ineffective prime minister. The fundamental cause is that there has been a systematic under-investment in improving policing and intelligence over the last three decades. Unless voters hold their elected representatives to account, matters will remain much the same.
Related Post:Towards a new national counter-terrorism policy