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Separate NCTC meet, with Qaida warning

New Delhi, April 3: The Centre has agreed to a separate discussion on the National Counter Terrorism Centre on May 5 but P. Chidambaram added a warning: al Qaida’s shadow falls on India, too.

“The chief minister of West Bengal was one of the three chief ministers who wanted a separate meeting and the Prime Minister has called for a separate meeting,” Chidambaram said today.

Besides Mamata Banerjee, Bihar’s Nitish Kumar and Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik had asked for separate discussions on the NCTC.

“I have written to all chief ministers and I hope that they will all confirm their participation (in the May 5 meeting),” he said.

A draft of standard operating procedures on the NCTC will be circulated among all chief ministers before the meeting.

Chidambaram had earlier proposed that the NCTC issue be taken up along with other issues on April 16 at the annual meeting with the chief ministers on internal security.

Mamata and the others, however, objected to what they saw as dilution of the issue and sought a separate discussion.

The home minister appeared in a mood for consensus but he pointed out that India needed an institutional mechanism to fight terrorism because al Qaida’s influence extended to India and beyond.

“I do not know of any serious differences,” the minister said, playing down the flurry of protests through February and March, including letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from 10 chief ministers who cited a violation of the federal principle.

If there are “nuances” in the home ministry order, Chidambaram said, they would be sorted out. The order could be rephrased to include the chief ministers’ suggestions, he hinted.

The meeting next month will be convened by the home ministry, which had issued the February 3 order declaring establishment of the National Counter Terrorism Centre.

Chidambaram today rang alarm bells, perhaps as a last resort, to drive home his point on the need for centralised power to fight terror. He cited terrorist acts in 2011 across South Asia that served as a warning for India.

“The bulk of them are in our region, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, India and Thailand… the al Qaida’s shadow falls on the region,” the home minister told reporters, almost beseeching the chief ministers to see the danger signs.

The home minister named the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizb-ul Mujahideen as major threats.

There is a need to institutionalise the fight against terrorism and India needs “institutional memory”, which is the genesis of the NCTC, Chidambaram said.

“The idea was accepted by the Jaswant Singh committee, by the second administrative committee. I think once we sit down, discuss these matters, I am confident that there will be a very good outcome,” he said.

Once again, the home minister argued that the NCTC had enough provisions to protect federalism, pointing out that its standing council had only four members from the Centre and 28 representatives from the states.