NCTC: Why Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee are barking up the wrong tree - Economic Times On Monday, the chief ministers of all Indian states gathered in Delhi to talk to the central government about security, terrorism and other important issues. Well, not quite all states: Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee didn't come. Exactly why Banerjee did not make the trip to Delhi is not known. What is known is that she was one of the most vocal opponents of Delhi's suggestion to set up a body, tentatively called the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) after a similarly-named body in the US. In February, Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik began a campaign against the NCTC, which he argued would nibble away at India's federal structure. After all, he argued, law and order and policing are state subjects and the creation of a national unit to tackle things like, say, Naxalism would lead to Delhi poking its nose into what state capitals could handle on their own, thank you. Soon, other non-Congress chief ministers including Banerjee jumped into the anti-NCTC bandwagon. Finally, on Monday, home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram clarified that the new body would not encroach on the powers of states, but would work with local law enforcers in special cases. Whatever their opinions on the NCTC, all chief ministers apart from Mamata came to Delhi to talk to the government. These days, Banerjee's main perceptions of terror are focused around satirical emails about her administration. Trinamool goons and a pliant Kolkata police reckon that their competence is enough to tackle college professors and others who forward such emails. Why should Didi waste precious time in Delhi talking about the NCTC? In recent months, the country's commentariat has seized on Mamata's histrionics and Patnaik's anti-NCTC grandstanding to conclude that power has shifted from Delhi to state capitals. The administration headed by Manmohan Singh looks tired and spineless, senior ministers bicker among themselves. That too has added to the impression of a Centre that's paralysed and states that are hyperactive. Reality is different. Last week, Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal (BJD)-led administration in Orissa caved in to every demand made by a Naxalite outfit led by Oriya leader Sabyasachi Panda. The administration released every prisoner that the Naxals wanted, in order to secure the release of a single Italian named Paolo Bosusco, who they had held for a month in captivity. It doesn't end there. On the night of March 23, another group of Naxals calling itself the Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) captured Jhina Hikaka, an elected legislator of Patnaik's own party. Nearly one month later, Patnaik's administration is groping for a way out of this crisis. On Monday, he told reporters in Delhi, "I assure you that the government will leave no stone unturned to secure the release of our young tribal MLA." April 18 has now been set asthe deadline for a hostage swap. If everything goes as planned by the AOBSZC, it will get back 29 of its own for the release of Hikaka. Clearly, while campaigning against the NCTC, Patnaik forgot how inept his own babus, policemen and intelligence apparatus were. Few states negotiate as ardently with terrorists and give up so much for so little asOrissa has done in recentmonths. The rot started early last year when Naxals captured the collector of Malkangiri district, R VineelKrishna, and held him till five of their jailed comrades were released. While Krishna was held by the Maoists, the state bureaucracy whipped itself up into a frenzy, demanding that the administration do 'something' to get him out. Faced by the wrath of its babus, Patnaik's government lost its nerve and agreed to the swap. Today, the situation at home is worse but Patnaik continues to grandstand against the NCTC and for greater federalism. Actually, on things like controlling Naxalism, Delhi and the states need to work closertogether instead of squabbling with each other. Stategovernments themselves can't tackle Naxals alone, for the latter can flee to nearby states and the police's jurisdiction ends at state borders. Banerjee, who now campaigns against the NCTC, actually knows the virtues of cooperating with Delhi quite well. Before she won elections, she was sympathetic to causes, like police atrocities, raised by Bengal's far-Left outfits. As central minister, she coaxed Delhi to pull out paramilitaries from western parts of Bengal where these outfits could, and did, help her win votes. After polls, she pulled out of talks, got the paramilitaries back and drove Naxals back into the wilderness. It would be wrong to conclude that Bengal's handling of Naxals has been far better than Orissa's. For Naxals, Bengal's diminished economics means that pickings are leaner compared to what can be grabbed in mineral-rich Orissa. This also means that Patnaik has much more to lose than Mamata if he fails to control Naxals. Recent events suggest Naxals have the upper hand over Patnaik. Naxal activity is widespread in those parts of the country where governance has failed. In these areas, the state has withdrawn from doing what it promised to do: run schools and hospitals, create opportunities for its citizens. The history of India's many insurgencies shows that militancy can be curbed by a mixture of policing and politics. Good policing helps nab the most violent extremists, good politics wins over hearts and minds of affected people. To do both, states need to engage more effectively with Delhi.