The Trinamool Congress and other opposition parties raised the issue of the presence of Army personnel at toll plazas ‘in various parts’ of West Bengal in both Houses of Parliament on Friday. WB chief minister Mamata Banerjee had earlier told the Indian Express that the Army deployment was in “clear violation of the Constitution” and a bid to “create a civil war like situation in the country.”
WATCH VIDEO: Row Over West Bengal ”Military Coup” Issue Escalates: Who Said What
The Army however clarified and called the incident a ‘routine exercise.’ Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar also spoke on the issue in Parliament and said that Trinamool’s reaction to the incident was merely ‘political frustration.’ He said, “Its sad that a routine exercise has been made into a controversy now.” Parrikar added that the exercise was scheduled to happen on December 28, 29 and 30, but were shifted to December 1, 2 on the request of Kolkata police.
The Minister of State for Defence, Subhash Bhamre, also said that “similar exercise was done in 2015 at the same location.” TMC leaders in the Rajya Sabha refused to accept the answer and accused Bhamre of misleading the House.
Banerjee spent the night at Nabanna, the state secretariat protesting against the presence of Army personnel at the toll plaza. Speaking to The Indian Express, Banerjee had earlier said, “This is very unfortunate that the Army is present outside Nabanna despite police objection. I am staying here, guarding our democracy.”
The TMC supremo also alleged that on Wednesday night, the aircraft carrying her was made to hover over Kolkata despite being low on fuel. The IndiGo airline clarified saying that the air traffic controller “misunderstood” that the plane was low on fuel after the pilot radioed that the aircraft had eight minutes of extra holding fuel over Kolkata. However, TMC members were not satisfied by the response.
Speaking to ANI, leader of the party in Lok Sabha, Sudip Bandhopadhyay said , “It is a grave situation when a CM is being continuously harassed and her life is in danger.” He also alleged that the army “was covering big important toll plazas and controlling bridges” under the state government. “We want a clarification by Defence Ministry on army deployment in Bengal. We will be very vocal about this in both the houses.” Echoing the sentiment in the party, Bandhopadhyay objected to the way the Central government was “operating whole system.” He said, “It is as if some emergency is going to be proclaimed in West Bengal.”
Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’ Brien claimed “Till midnight I got reports that in over a dozen districts army personnel were being deployed. We have full respect for the army, but we are told that the data they are looking for is already available.” The Rajya Sabha MP further refuted the claims made by the Army that the state police knew about the movement. “Are they authorised to collect funds from toll plazas? Eastern command said this is being coordinated (and that) police knows…this is untrue.” He had also tweeted a video that showed Army personnel at a toll plaza and asked whether “Besides Financial Emergency”, the Centre had “also imposed General Emergency.”
Dismissing allegations of ‘coup’ the Indian Army had said it was conducting an “annual exercise… as per government orders” and there was “nothing alarming.” However, around midnight, it withdrew, saying data had been gathered. Major General Sunil Yadav addressed the media on Friday and said, “Similar exercise also been carried out in Jharkhand, UP and Bihar from 26th September to 1st October this year.” He added that the data collection involves all North-Eastern states, including Assam, Arunachal,West Bengal,Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram and Sikkim. “Over 80 such collection data points established in entire region, personnel of army consisting of 5-6 at each point are unarmed,” he said. Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu rubbished all accusations made by Trinamool, “Eastern command said its a regular exercise, will do this for 3 days. Fine if they (TMC) want to divert from main issues, or raise in Parliament.”