Chidambaram has offered a perfect remedy for internal security. But will politics let it happen?
Since this is not an election year, home minister P. Chidambaram’s talk — as part of the 22nd Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture a few weeks ago — on restructuring the ministry of home affairs in view of the changing internal security realities should be taken seriously. Clearly, this is no election gimmick to convey government’s intent as was assumed of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
In the broad sweep of his speech, delving into history, philosophy and world affairs, the minister suggests bifurcation of the ministry of home affairs. His contention is that the behemoth which deals with both overseas Indians as well terrorism can do justice to neither. In his own words, “MHA now handles a wide portfolio of subjects ranging from ‘freedom fighters’ to ‘forensic science’. Is this a functional arrangement to deal with the grave challenges to internal security that we face and that we will face for many more years? I am afraid not… In my view, given the imperatives and the challenges of the times, a division of the current functions of the ministry of home affairs is unavoidable”.
Nobody questions the wisdom of this long overdue idea. Even before the terrorist attack on Mumbai, FORCE has consistently been suggesting creation of a ministry of internal security under which the Para-military and intelligence forces should be brought in. In its present form, the MHA has to deal with disparate subjects, including tedious administrative issues pertaining to census, states, Union territories, pensions and awards, that it is unfathomable that a person with the ability to handle these will also have the capability to address insurgency, terrorism as well as intelligence. These demand not only a different frame of mind but a completely different attitude towards work. Internal security needs a full-time minister.
While this was certainly the big idea, Chidambaram’s heavily loaded speech also suggested creation of the office of internal security equivalent of the ‘chief of defence staff’, who could be either “a police officer or a military officer. He/she will be the single person accountable to the country on all matters relating to internal security.” This person will head a super organisation (which hopefully would come under the ministry of internal security) called the National Counter Terrorism Centre. This, as the eponymous name suggests, would be the single organisation to address all issues pertaining to terrorism, including prevention, containment as well fighting. NCTC will not be toothless body; it will have operational powers, which implies it will have a counter-terrorism force under it, which at the moment is National Security Guards (NSG). Once this is created everything else that has been created so far in the name of counter-terrorism, whether it is Multi Agency Centre (MAC) or NIA will be subsumed by it. Agencies like National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) will also come under its umbrella with elements of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and ARC that pertain to counter-terrorism also reporting to it. The national grid (NATGRID) that is supposed to network the data bases of all the intelligence agencies (state, national and defence etc) will also come under NCTC.
These if implemented would be the most ambitious reforms ever of the MHA. On paper, or in Chidambaram’s words, these sound like the panacea of all our internal security woes. However, as the minister himself has cautioned, the problem is not of intent but implementation. NATGRID and NCTC suggest transparency. Which intelligence agency in India would allow that to happen? After all, if that happens, how will they ever indulge in selective leaks to the media blaming the rival agency for goof-ups? And given that agencies are loathe to share intelligence with one another, few will cede their turf without acrimony. And this squabbling has already started. Recent media reports suggest that the Mumbai police are resenting NIA stepping on its toes by forcing the police informers to report to NIA alone.
But the biggest challenge before NCTC would be political. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government created MAC as recommended by the group of ministers after the 1999 Kargil War. It remained still-born because the succeeding Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government didn’t bother with it until 2009, when hit by 26/11 it was hard pressed to do something. Even as the MAC was operationalised in January 2009, government announced the creation of NIA, which many felt would duplicate if not rival the Central Bureau of Investigation. Even now the critics may point out that instead of creating a new super structure the government should have strengthened the existing ones and freed them from political pressures.
Besides, while Chidambaram may be above pettiness, but how many ministers would be comfortable with the idea of NCTC which will eventually become an interface between various intelligence organisations and the ministry. Finally, given that despite the announcement several months ago, the government is yet to appoint a Maritime Security Advisor, what hope could there be for these reforms.