Opposition parties led by the Trinamool Congress on Friday charged the government with trying to create a ‘fear psychosis’ in West Bengal by deploying army units at toll plaza without informing the state administration. Rajya Sabha witnessed noisy scenes on Friday morning after West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee spent the night at the government secretariat in Kolkata, alleging that there was an attempt to dethrone her by an army coup.
The Centre clarified that the army was only performing a routine duty of collecting data about trucks and other vehicles that can be used during public emergencies. The government also maintained that the West Bengal government had been informed about this exercise that happens at routine intervals. But the Opposition was not convinced.
TMC leader Partha Chatterjee, accused the Modi government of using the Army for politics and said that the situation is very unfortunate. “The manner in which Modi government is using the Army for politics has never happened before. We have the highest respect for the Army, but the situation is very unfortunate.” Speaking on the Army’s statement that the state was informed he said, “We were not informed. We had not given permission to Army.”
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“The army was deployed at 19 places in West Bengal without the information of the state administration. There is an attempt to create a fear psychosis amongst the people. I must remind this government that the people of Bengal have fought against the British and they are ready to fight against (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s autocracy as well,” Sukhendu Shekhar Roy of the Trinamool Congress said in the Rajya Sabha.
Before him, leader of Opposition in the House, Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress had also raised the issue, wanting to know why army’s deployment at some of the toll plazas in the state had become necessary.
“Strange things are happening in this country. Something like this has never happened before. It is very surprising. It is also the first time that a chief minister of a state has had to spend the night in the secretariat. I would like to the government to clarify on this,” Azad said.
Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre said the Opposition had got its facts wrong. He claimed that this was a routine exercise done by the Army and was slated for November 28 and 29. He said district officials in the state had requested that the dates be shifted in view of the Bharat Bandh called by some political parties on November 28 to protest against government’s decision to demonetize 500 and 1,000 rupee notes.
“This is a routine annual data collection exercise and is being done in coordination with the state government. The dates of the exercise were changed at the specific request of Kolkata police and other officials,” the minister said.
Bhamre said such exercises had happened in the past in several states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. He said it was a routine exercise to collect data on vehicles that can be used during “national emergencies”.
The reference to “national emergencies” angered the Opposition who wanted to know what the minister meant by that. Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu intervened to clarify that national emergencies could be floods, tsunami or cyclones.
TMC’s Derek O’Brien said he would challenge the Defence Minister’s version of events and place documentary evidence to this effect on Monday.
The Rajya Sabha could function only one hour in the morning. As soon as the Question Hour began at noon, the Opposition once again started repeating its demand for an apology from the Prime Minister on his comments a few days ago. Modi had said Opposition parties were protesting against demonetisation because they did not get adequate time to dispose their black money.