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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Catching up with the SIT chief

Published in Milligazette

By Firdaus Ahmed[1]
Mr. RK Raghavan, a former director of CBI, is known better for his fortnightly column in the reputed journal Frontline, a flagship publication advertised as India’s National Magazine from the publishers of the equally formidable for its erudition, The Hindu. It is therefore with some respect that readers have been accessing his views to inform and shape their own. This regard for his post retirement output on security and policing is perhaps what prompted the Supreme Court to appoint him as the head of the Special Investigation Team that went into the Gujarat carnage to assess the veracity of the more significant crimes committed post Godhra there. The report of the SIT having been submitted it is now clear that the exercise was one of exonerating the political figures involved not only in inciting but later in covering up the crimes. That the report has gone on to even absolve the political leadership of Gujarat then of acts of omission, leave alone of acts of commission, has left the readers of RK Raghavan’s columns in a state of confusion. Was their faith in the credibility of Mr. Raghavan as a guide into the internal security realm misplaced?
Raghavan’s latest column in the Frontline, ‘Tepid on Terror’, (, May 19-June 1, 2012) should dispel any doubts of Mr. Raghavan’s political inclination. In effect, Mr. Raghavan is no professional writing dispassionately about his craft. He is instead a political person and his work reflects his politics. Mistaking him is the fault of his readers, not his. If the Supreme Court was likewise misled by his seemingly secular credentials, then it is at the institution’s cost. Mr. Raghavan cannot be blamed for being himself. Clarity on the working of his mind is easily obtainable from his column in which he attempts to advocate the NCTC.
The argument he makes, that comes out clearly in his concluding paragraph, is that the NCTC would be able to network foreign intelligence agencies better and with its policing powers (that has proven its Achilles heel) be able to act autonomously to good effect. His article brings out the ‘threat’ of terror as he sees it in the surviving of Al Qaeda post 2014, and its affiliation to the Lashkar e Taiba. This, given the latter’s penetration of India (in Mr. Raghavan’s estimate) is an existential threat that requires an appropriate response in the form of an NCTC. While the first and last paragraphs have a mention of NCTC on an article purportedly on NCTC, the remainder of the article is scaremongering with which the liberal minority is by now already more than familiar with. 
The problem is that this has now become the ‘common sense’, with ‘authorities’, who ought to know better, also purveying it. With Mr. Raghavan’s ‘clean chit’ to the political leadership in Gujarat, it is apparent that the future may well be a repeat of the past. Mr. Raghavan’s  is a self-fulfilling prophecy in that with the judicial system sabotaged by his report, it would incentivise hotheads to draw their own conclusions. This will then make Mr. Raghavan take the position, ‘See, I told you so, didn’t I?’; thereby buttressing his ‘expert’ credentials. That his article does not carry a mention of Hindutva inspired terror that has masqueraded as minority perpetrated suggests a blind spot. This blind spot is incidentally what reveals Mr. Raghavan’s politics best. These elements have been lying low of late, given the manner they have been exposed as behind many if not most terror incident’s earlier attributed by default as minority perpetrated.
This brings one to the point that Mr. Raghavan yet again misleads by attempts to rely on the ‘common sense’ to make a case for NCTC. This popular, if erroneous, notion has been manufactured by closet cultural nationalists, both in the strategic community and media; the ranks of which now have a distinguished denizen, Mr. Raghavan, now unmasked. The case for NCTC if at all is not that it is required for coping with minority perpetrated terror and its external linkages, but for taming Hindutva inspired terror. The terror that has passed for minority perpetrated terror has been doubly effective. Firstly it has put the minority in the dock and also, secondly, when there, on the backfoot, in getting those so accused to first their prove innocence and then prove the other side guilty. This is what in intelligence circles are called ‘black operations’. This is suggestive of intelligence tutelage of those so engaged. Given the predilections of the well regarded Mr. Raghavan now exposed, it is worth a ponder if there are subterranean linkages between state agencies, well known to be without parliamentary supervision and nefarious groups of a certain political persuasion. Analogy can be drawn from the notorious ISI linkages allegedly with certain grou, brought out copiously in Mr. Raghavan’s article. Given that the state, both at the Union level and provincial, has acted with alacrity against the latter, there is little need then to also have an NCTC based on this logic. Instead, an NCTC with teeth is required for the Union to act against Hindutva inspired terror groups, since there is great reluctance, perhaps due to the possible complicity mentioned here, against Hindutva inspired groups. Given that this argument is not marshalled makes Mr. Raghavan’s critique of those holding up the NCTC somewhat ‘tepid on terror’.
While there are good reasons to go slow on the NCTC with teeth as envisaged, one reason why it is needed is to cope with those that form the blind spot of the state. Admitting to this is perhaps too much to expect of the home ministry, but this is the more pertinent reason why the UPA has perhaps wanted the NCTC in its current form. However, there is a problem area that needs reckoning with. This is that in equipping itself with such powers, in case the Union is captured, democratically or otherwise by forces inimical to the Constitution, then it would be too late to rue them such powers. So although there is good reason to have an NCTC that can take action, there are reservations that can lend the exercise pause.
In enabling these observations on the NCTC and the dominant security discourse, Mr. Raghavan’s column has served a purpose, but not as he imagined. It is time the editors of the Hindu group read their very own columnists since such writings excite dissonance in their readers, being inconsistent with the otherwise credible and creditably liberal line of the publications of the group.

[1] Firdaus Ahmed blogs at

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