It comes as no surprise that it has been left to home
ministry officials to do some loud thinking, actually test the political
waters, on resurrecting the proposal to establish a National Counter Terrorism
Centre. No minister would have wished to re-float a proposal for an
organisation of that nature: not after Narendra Modi, when chief minister of
Gujarat, had been among the most strident of objectors when the UPA government
did the groundwork for it after the terror outrage in the nation’s financial
capital. Several non-Congress state governments had then insisted that the NCTC
(conceived on the pattern of an American system created after 9/11) would
infringe upon their rights, and the union government would acquire “backdoor”
control over law-and-order — which the states consider a cherished right under
the Constitution, but do little to effectively discharge their responsibility.

At a recent meeting of the parliamentary standing committee
on home affairs, the home secretary is reported to have said “no final
decision” had been taken. Another official of the ministry said elsewhere that
“the NCTC is not dead and buried”; but officials are wary of saying more on the
politically sensitive issue. Given the reality that under the NDA
administration the political divide has been exacerbated, a new nomenclature
and altered powers could be a way out of the impasse that had caused the initial
effort (former home minister P Chidambaram was said to be its architect) to be

Whether Modi and Mr Rajnath Singh will be able to come up
with an acceptable alternative is a query only time might answer — provided
they take the hard decision home ministry officials are dropping hints about.

Most counter-terrorism “professionals” lament the absence of
a centralised unit that would collect and collate various intelligence inputs
necessary to mount a comprehensive war on terror — the need for which is
underscored by Pakistan’s continued ignoring of international opinion and using
terror as an instrument of state policy. No state-level agency can tackle the
problem on its own.

Many experts apprehend that merely sharing of intelligence
is not enough: some information may actually be leaked. Or, that the time-lag
between receiving an input and acting upon it could render the input
useless. Hence the initial proposal to empower the NCTC to make arrests,
to which the states are so bitterly opposed — perhaps because of the unhappy
experience of the Centre misusing the CBI (and other enforcement agencies) for
political ends. If and when an equivalent of the NCTC does take shape it 

would be worth estimating how much was “lost” while the
proposal was hanging fire. It will indicate the price the nation paid for its
petty politicking.