Things fall apart, centre cannot hold

CMs too are playing politics, taking advantage of a weak union


Prasanna Mohanty | April 17, 2012

If Monday’s annual conference of chief ministers turned into a political battlefield instead of being a meaningful dialogue between the union and the states on critical internal security issues, which it was meant to be, it is because the union government has lost its political and moral authority.

The prime minister has always been seen as politically weak with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi wielding that authority. He lost his moral ground over the years because of his reluctance to act against corruption (it was the court that forced his hands in the cases of 2G, CWG and other big-ticket scams). And now, the arrogance of his government in push through certain security measures without taking the states’ into confidence has compounded his problem.

Protest over police powers to NCTC or BSF is only a pretext for the chief ministers belonging to the opposition ranks to gang up against a weak union government. They have little to complain really. For, the proposed police power to NCTC is derived from an old amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (carried out during the first term of the UPA). The same power was given to NIA also when it was set up in the aftermath of 26/11. Similarly, the proposed police power to BSF is nothing new. This power is already available to other paramilitary forces like ITBP, CRPF and SSB. So, why this hue and cry now?

If the states are so upset at police power being given to anti-terror mechanisms and paramilitary forces increasingly getting involved in law and order issues (fighting Maoists and terrorists), why did they keep quiet when those amendments were made in the first place? Clearly, they are playing politics, taking advantage of the weakened union.

The fact that police powers have already been given to NIA, CRPF and ITBP raises two serious questions. One, did the parliamentarians deliberate on the matter properly while approving and passing these amendments? Two, did the union take steps to ensure these organisations were sensitized about how to handle police powers? From the current development and the objections raised about the apparent misuse of this power the answers to both questions are ‘no’. One, however, is tempted to argue that had the union government taken the states into confidence (and not arrogantly bulldoze its way) while notifying police powers to NCTC or proposing the same for BSF, the events could have been a different turn.

Two more things happened at the CMs’ conference which has escaped media attention. After the CMs cornered the union and charged it with harming the federal structure, union home minister P Chidambarm asked the prime minister if he would like to respond. The PM declined. The CMs took it as an indication that he had no explanation to offer. If at all, the PM’s silence only strengthens the suspicion of the states that the union government is indeed trying to encroach upon the states’ jurisdiction.

The second and equally unfortunate development was Chidambaram’s concluding remarks in which he reportedly told the CMs that if the states are willing to take two steps forward in their fight against terrorism the union would be willing to take two steps backward. What this implies is that the states are abdicating their responsibilities in the fight against terrorism and apparently, didn’t go well with many CMs.

Surely, this is not the end of the ugly episode that points to the growing chasm between the union and the state governments. Next month when the CMs meet for the second time to discuss NCTC and the amendment to give police powers to BSF (the CMs said they will take up the latter at the next meeting) more of the same is likely to follow, unless the union mends its ways and make appropriate conciliatory gesture in the interim.



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