Chairing the 11th meeting of the Inter-State Council (ISC) on July 13, Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted that “[t]he nation can only progress if the State and the Centre work shoulder to shoulder.” And with reference to internal security, he observed that it was not possible to strengthen it if intelligence exchange was not improved. He, therefore, requested States to focus on intelligence-sharing in order to help the country stay “alert” to, and “updated” on, internal security challenges.1 The meeting, held for the first time after 2006, had internal security as one of its main agendas.
The ISC has met ten times so far. Its first seven meetings mainly discussed the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission, which had been established in June 1983 to review the working of the existing arrangements between the Union and the States. In the eighth meeting, the emphasis was on optimal utilization of the ISC to sort out, and reach consensus on, emerging issues of national importance, especially in socio-economic sectors, so as to facilitate cooperation between the States and the Centre, leading to concrete implementation. At the ISC’s ninth meeting in June 2005, the emphasis was on good governance, while the tenth meeting held in December 2006 focused on implementation of SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.2
The ISC is a recommendatory body with the following duties:3
- Investigating and discussing such subjects, in which some or all of the States or the Union and one or more of the States have a common interest.
- Making recommendations upon any such subject and in particular recommendations for the better coordination of policy and action with respect to that subject.
- Deliberating upon such other matters of general interest to the States as may be referred by the Chairman to the Council.
Internal Security is thus only one of the aspects that the wide scope and mandate of the ISC covers. Consequently, internal security has often not been given due consideration as far as the proceedings of the ISC are concerned.
Over the last few decades, the dividing line between internal and external security has blurred considerably, with the respective facets of the two aspects of security often enmeshed. ‘Law and Order’, which is a subject in the State list, can no longer be exclusively left to the States. Evolving and deepening nexus between crime and terrorism/insurgency bears testimony to the fact that ‘law and order’ issues have wider pan-Indian ramifications with obvious connections to external security, given India’s inimical neighbourhood. Also, insurgents often do not recognise state boundaries and have exploited to their advantage the lack of synergy amongst the States and between the States and the Centre. A case in point is the current version of Left Wing Extremism, which thrives in the central eastern tribal belt by exploiting the gaps along inter-state boundaries.
Internal threats to national security have assumed centre-stage in the debates on Indian security. It has been argued that internal threats are as serious as external threats, if not greater. They have a pan-Indian presence and, therefore, tackling them is a common concern for the Centre and the States.
In view of the above, coordination and unity of purpose between the Centre and the States as well as amongst the States has often been acknowledged and deliberated upon. Several initiatives have also been taken towards creating mechanisms to forge cohesion, although these have not yielded substantial success. The basic challenge has been the lack of trust between the Centre and the States. There is an undeniable requirement for a platform that provides a forum for continuous exchange between the Centre and the State.
In this regard, the ISC, chaired by the Prime Minister, is the best constitutional forum at the disposal of the Union Government. This platform needs to be utilised optimally for enhancing cohesion and ironing out the differences between the Centre and the States. The latest meeting of the ISC, held after a gap of ten years, certainly raises questions about the commitment towards the overall well being of the national fabric. The ISC, a forum that facilitates cooperative federalism, is an ideal setting to deliberate on the interests of the people, address their problems and take collective and concrete decisions.
Considering the all pervasive and grave threats to national security, it is important that the Centre takes the most urgent steps for finalising the National Security Policy (NSP) and the machinery for its administration, in consultation with the States, in a non-partisan way. After the NSP is finalised, the Centre will have to undertake, in collaboration with the States, a country-wide review of the existing security management apparatus and draw up a plan for restructuring and revamping it within a stipulated timeframe. While playing their part in such an exercise, the States would need to accept the important role they are required to play in the National Security Management apparatus and demonstrate their unconditional commitment to working closely with each other and with the Centre.4
For nearly two decades, there have been repeated pronouncements that the Centre is promulgating a law for dealing with identified federal offences and establishing a central agency which would have the authority to take cognisance of, and investigate, crimes that have serious inter-state and nationwide ramifications for national security. The proposal of setting up a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), for instance, has continued to be debated for the past several years. A number of States, which have been opposed to the establishment of a NCTC in its proposed form, have suggested that the proposed framework of this body should be entirely revised in consultation with all the States. Some other states have urged that a NCTC should not be established through an executive order, but instead through an Act of Parliament.
Terrorism and other federal offences cannot be dealt with by the existing security management apparatus. It is necessary that the Prime Minister undertakes urgent discussions with the Chief Ministers to resolve all doubts and issues raised by the States. The ISC, with the Prime Minister at its helm, could prove to be a game changer in this regard. In the same stead, it would be useful for the Central Government to consider inducting representatives of the States in the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and in the National Security Council (NSC), even if on a rotational basis. Similarly, a NCTC should also be established by going beyond party lines.5
Some of the doubts voiced by the States about the management of security-related issues arise from the style of functioning of the institutions that are exclusively controlled by the Centre. A via media has to be struck in the form of an organisation that is jointly managed by the Centre and the States. An excellent example in this regard is the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) established by the United States after 9/11. The JTTF, located in various cities across the US, includes representatives from the federal, state and municipal enforcement agencies and perform several important roles including the clearing of all terrorism-related information.6
Over time, functioning through joint institutions will enable the States to gain a well-informed perspective about the complex and sensitive issues concerning national security management and, in the process, also defuse their perennial complaints about the Centre’s interference with the powers of the States while undertaking internal security management. And above all, an atmosphere of mutual trust can be established through deliberations in the ISC. The aforesaid aspect assumes paramount importance in the light of the activities and reach of insurgents and terrorists who recognise no boundaries.
In the current circumstances, a seemingly ‘law and order’ issue has the potential to cascade into a serious national security threat. As a general practice, instead of progressively improving the capability of their police and security maintenance apparatus for effectively dealing with disturbances, the States have been perennially seeking assistance from the Centre. The Centre too has been adopting a mathematical ‘battalion approach’ by pumping in troops without associating itself with the root cause of the challenge. Countering such threats by the governments at all levels cannot be done in silos. Ownership shall have to be taken up by the Centre and States and regular ISC meetings could provide the necessary impetus for the executive to act, as warranted.