A grim duty

As terrorist violence revisited Hyderabad, with two bomb blasts at a street junction in Dilsukhnagar, the cycle of sadness and recrimination has started up again. Those targeted were ordinary citizens, waiting at the bus stop, shopping for vegetables, going to the temple in the neighbourhood. This time, too, policing has clearly failed citizens. This area had been attacked by terrorists twice before, in 2002 and 2007. Given that there had been an intelligence alert warning of a possible attack in Hyderabad and other cities, the police ought to have been far more vigilant than they seem to have been.

But instead of admitting this failure and understanding why it occurred, the political establishment seeks to score petty points off each other. The home ministry's first reflex was to duck for cover. Sushilkumar Shinde first claimed that the ministry had some indication of trouble and had relayed this information, then corrected himself to say it was only a general warning, not actionable. Meanwhile, the BJP called for a bandh in Andhra Pradesh to protest the event, and the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, wondered aloud if the inflammatory speeches of MIM leader Akbaruddin Owaisi had played a part. These ready postures of offence and defence only distract from the complex challenge of counter-terrorism, and getting to the root of each particular failure. For instance, the problem is that responsibility is scattered, given that policing is a state subject and there is still no unified anti-terror apparatus like the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre.

The attack of 26/11 forced a thorough review of intelligence, security and enforcement agencies. While the National Investigation Agency is running successfully, and is investigating this attack, NATGRID (a networked intelligence database) is running behind schedule and NCTC (National Counter Terrorism Centre) has run into trouble. The NCTC was planned as a Central umbrella agency tasked with the job of preventing, responding to and investigating a terror attack, but it stumbled on issues of federalism. Several states, including those run by the UPA, questioned its wide powers to search, seize and arrest without necessarily involving the state DGPs, as well as its exemption from parliamentary scrutiny. The NCTC plan has been modified in the light of those concerns, and now it is the states' turn to respond. Both the Centre and the states should know, after Hyderabad's grim experience, that we cannot afford to put it off.

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