Mamata Miffed as Modi Govt Lets FBI Override State Sovereignty
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. (Photo: Reuters)
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. (Photo: Reuters)

Mamata Miffed as Modi Govt Lets FBI Override State Sovereignty

Snapshotclose

  • With the Modi government’s approval, the NIA has signed an “agency-to-agency” agreement with the FBI.
  • It allows FBI to probe terrorism-related cases in India, without taking the concerned state government’s permission.
  • This kind of collaboration on such a sensitive subject is unprecedented.
  • Recently an FBI team, without taking permission from the West Bengal government but aided by the NIA, landed in the state to probe a case.
  • Mamata Banerjee was peeved by this and asked the state police to lodge a protest.
  • This has raised concern among officials of probable implications for the country’s sovereignty.

In a decision impinging on the sovereignty of India, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), with the approval of the Narendra Modi government, has signed an “agency-to-agency” agreement by which the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can probe any terrorism-related cases without having to seek the permission of the concerned state governments.

When contacted over the phone, NIA Director-General Sharad Kumar, who was recently given an extension in service by the Modi government, told The Quint:

Yes, there has been an agreement between the two agencies, but it is of an informal nature. The NIA has also gone to the US for investigations.

When asked further whether the central government was aware of the NIA-FBI agreement, Kumar said: “Yes, it is.”

Unprecedented Collaboration on Sensitive Subject of Terrorism

This is the first time that any Indian investigating agency has entered into an agreement, however informal, with a foreign counterpart on the sensitive – and often secretive – subject of terrorism. Previous governments, whether the UPA or the NDA regime, have abided by, followed, and honoured more institutionalised mechanisms such as the joint working groups on terrorism or crime with foreign governments.

As the central government has allowed the FBI free access to any Indian state to probe terror-related cases, it may be recalled that the BJP in general and Narendra Modi in particular (who was the then Gujarat chief minister), were the severest critics of the then UPA government over NIA’s creation and subsequently over the issue of a proposed Counter-Terrorism Centre. At that time, a most vocal Modi had said that allowing the NIA and the proposed Counter-Terrorism Centre would erode the powers of the states.

The India-US Joint Working Group (JWG) on Counter-Terrorism was established as far back as the first AB Vajpayee-led NDA government. The last time this particular JWG met was in Washington DC in July this year, to “advance common agenda and opportunities for cooperation across the full range of counter-terrorism issues.” The meeting discussed regional terrorist threats, information sharing, border security and efforts to counter violent extremism. The FBI is the main American agency dealing with counter-terrorism. For a long time, it has even maintained a small team of special agents stationed at the American embassy in Delhi.

But the “informal agreement” between the NIA and FBI has far-reaching implications, especially for India, which has for years together been very chary of allowing foreign investigating or intelligence agencies to directly probe terror-related cases within India.

Indian states have been particularly wary of allowing foreign investigating agencies.

Mamata Peeved By FBI’s ‘Freewheeling’ in West Bengal

More recently, the West Bengal government of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee raised strong and uncomfortable questions for the Modi government when the state Director-General of Police Surajit Kar Purakayastha called up the NIA to protest the FBI’s “entry” and “freewheeling” investigations in the case of an alleged Islamic State/Daesh operative Mohammad Maisuddin, alias Musa, who hails from Labhpur in Birbhum district of West Bengal.

It is learnt that recently an FBI team, without taking permission from the West Bengal government but aided by the NIA, landed in the state to question Masiuddin.

Kar Purakasytha is said to have to expressed “extreme displeasure” at the manner in which the FBI team was allowed to question an alleged terror suspect without the state government being informed.

The chief minister was in a “flap” when she was informed of the FBI team’s visit to her state, and that too without seeking official sanction. Banerjee instructed Kar Purakayastha to lodge a strong protest with the NIA, which, besides the Intelligence Bureau, is the nodal agency on investigating terrorism cases in India.

Even Different State Police Need Permission in Other’s Region, Then Why Not the FBI: Sources

Both central and state government sources said that Kumar told Kar Purakayastha that according to the NIA-FBI agreement, the American counter-terrorism agency was not bound to seek the West Bengal’s permission before proceeding with a ground investigation in any state.

The sources said that the West Bengal government was “rightly” peeved by the FBI’s entry in the state with the full knowledge of the NIA, especially when state police forces have to seek each other’s permission before entering their respective territories to investigate inter-state crimes.

A former CBI director said:

And this is a case involving the active presence of a foreign investigating agency, which is an issue that has implications for the country’s sovereignty.

The official added that the Modi government “ought to be sensitive about the political implications of allowing the FBI to operate freely across any Indian state.”

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