Barack Obama faces bigger terrorist threats to his life than Manmohan Singh. But we don't see security guards standing behind Obama when he delivers a public speech. When Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi speaks, ear-phoned and presumably armed guards stand right behind them. Narendra Modi or Mayawati (as CM) would not move about without those menacing, finger-on-the trigger machinegun soldiers encircling them – a spectacle unseen in any other democracy in the world.
It is true that no Asian country is in greater need of anti-terrorist mechanisms than India. But our political class seems to prefer demonstrative rather than scientific mechanisms. It is as though Z category announces your arrival at the top while Y category puts you in the pits. Notice the zeal with which MPs are agitating for the right to carry a red light on top of their cars. It's all a status game for our VIPs.
Superimposed on that is a political game. The Centre and the state governments have made a mess of our police and intelligence agencies by converting them into political tools to serve the interests of the party in power. All political parties want this misuse to continue. In such a vitiated atmosphere, there was no chance for the chief ministers' conference on counter-terrorism to succeed. The proposed National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) remains a non-starter.
An integrated national policy to fight terrorism is badly needed in India. Individual states cannot tackle the problem effectively for reasons like India's long shoreline and common borders with seven countries, not to mention problems posed by cyberspace. Besides, several insurgents groups inside the country are receiving weaponry and strategic support from powerful neighbours. It is an ugly situation that calls for a no-nonsense professional set-up to tackle it, like the Department of Homeland Security in the US.
Yet, an initiative like NCTC does not take off because as many as eleven chief ministers stand resolutely against it. Their objections are based mainly on three factors – mistrust of central agencies like CBI and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), mistrust of P. Chidambaram and the chief ministers' own interest in using agencies like the police for pursuing their partisan objectives. All three factors are steeped in politics and therefore inimical to the wider interests of the country.
That the CBI and IB are not seen as independent agencies is a fact. Too often they have acted on behalf of the party in power and too often ministers have used them to suppress their own misdeeds or to oppress enemies. Too many IB chiefs have accepted post-retirement sinecures like governorships. The lack of credibility of these agencies makes people suspect that a new anti-terrorism agency will also be misused by the Centre as it misused the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) which had to be repealed in 2004.
The suspicions about NCTC are aggravated by the suspicions about P. Chidambaram. Perhaps the most unpopular Home Minister in recent history, Chidambaram enjoys the trust of no political grouping. His mishandling of the Anna Hazare and Telangana agitations on the one side and the Maoist movement on the other has raised doubts even about his capabilities. The Chief Minister of his home state heartily dislikes him. In the circumstances, his piloting of the NCTC doomed it even before the chief ministers assembled in Delhi.
Ultimately, the chief ministers too are political animals with ulterior motives. They want to abuse their police powers as comprehensively as the Central government has been abusing its CBI-IB powers. That police officers openly form associations on the basis of party loyalties may be a speciality of Kerala. But in other states too they are ready to please their political masters for return benefits. In the process, counter-terrorism becomes – like education, road development, agriculture, spectrum auction and everything else in our country – an extension of politics, instead of the professional task it ought to be, conceived and administered by professionals. It's a win-win situation for politicians, but it's lose-lose for the country.