The central government Saturday failed to convince dissenting chief ministers, including some of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), on its proposed anti-terror hub despite the over two-month effort to explain its contours, raising doubts over the agency's operationalisation any time soon.
At a day-long meeting here, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Chidambaram heard in silence as the chief ministers - including Congress ally Mamata Banerjee - fired volleys at the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), saying it undermined the states' powers.
Chidambaram came under vicious attack from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, who accused the home ministry of treating her government with contempt.
The chorus against the NCTC grew louder as the meeting progressed. Within hours it became clear that the chief ministers' fears on NCTC had not been allayed.
The chief ministers, who had opposed NCTC notification in February this year, stood their ground on two key issues - not having the agency under the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and against providing it overarching powers to operate in the states.
Of the 24 chief ministers and three states' ministers, the NCTC invited "outright rejection" from three, "qualified support" from many and "strong support" from many others, a disappointed and tired-sounding Chidambaram told the media at the end of the deliberations.
But the speech copies of chief ministers, distributed to the media at the venue, told an altogether different story with many of them asking for the immediate withdrawal of the NCTC notification.
However, the government assured them that it was open to the new ideas and would sincerely consider them. Chidmabaram also indicated the government will now go back to the drawing board before arriving at a final decision.
This effectively means the government will maintain the status quo on NCTC, keeping its operationalisation in abeyance.
Earlier, Manmohan Singh, who was the second speaker after the home minister, denied there was any attempt to disturb the policing domain of states or the country's federal structure.
"It is not our intention in any way to affect the distribution of powers between states and the union that our constitution provides," he said on the formation of NCTC, a pet project of Chidambaram.
Manmohan Singh said the NCTC "is not a state versus centre issue" because its main purpose was to "coordinate counter-terrorism efforts throughout this vast country".
Chidambaram also put up a strong defence and said the NCTC would be an important pillar of the security infrastructure to thwart terror threats from outside India and in cyber space.
Banerjee and non-Congress chief ministers were not convinced.
Jayalalithaa accused the home ministry of trying to "belittle" the state governments and treating them as "pawns on a chess board" instead of addressing "gaps and deficiencies" in counter terrorism capabilities.
She said the move to accumulate the counter-terrorism powers with the central agency "is preposterous and reveals total lack of understanding of ground realities".
Gujarat's Narendra Modi too made a strong plea for a rollback of NCTC, but expressed happiness that the central government acceded to have the chief ministers' meeting on the issue.
"The NCTC makes state units totally subservient and kills local initiative. It will create a draconian covert agency with police powers," he said.
He accused the central government of behaving like "viceroys of yore", saying the constitution of agency was a "conscious strategy" casting "the central government in the role of omnipresent, omniscient ruler with the states portrayed like dependent vassals."
Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is the second biggest constituent of the Congress-led UPA, also spoke against NCTC.
She said policing should remain with states. "I would, therefore, strongly urge the union government to withdraw the order for setting up the NCTC."
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, an ally of the ruling UPA, too was against "mandating" the NCTC with raiding and arresting powers.
Akhilesh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh, whose Samajwadi Party also supports the central government from outside, said the agency was unacceptable in its "present form" because "misuse of clauses (in NCTC) cannot be ruled out".
Other chief ministers who spoke against NCTC included Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh) and Parkash Singh Badal (Punjab).