New Delhi: Having positioned herself as the principal opponent of Modi government's demonetisation move, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is not letting go any opportunity to claim that she is being specifically targeted for standing up against the central government.
First, the Trinamool Congress alleged “a conspiracy to eliminate” Mamata who was on an IndiGo flight that was put into an holding pattern over Kolkata “despite being low on fuel” and now the West Bengal CM has herself raised alarm over presence of Army at toll plazas across the state, including one near state secretariat 'Nabanna'.
She tweeted: “Very unfortunate. Army stationed in front of Nabanno, the Bengal State Secretariat in a high-security zone, inspite of Police objection. Until and unless the Army stationed in front of Nabanno, the Bengal state govt secretariat, is withdrawn I will be staying at my Secretariat to guard our democracy.”
A little after midnight, the Eastern Command said the Army has been asked to withdraw from the toll plaza near Nabanna as it had already collected the data it required.
Past 2 am, Banerjee -- holding her third round of media conference since Thursday evening -- reiterated she would spend the night at Nabanna, fearing the Army may be back, IANS reported.
However, the Indian Army has come out strongly to refute any suggestions of wrongdoing.
The Army, in a statement, said its personnel were deployed at toll plazas as part of an exercise to “gather statistical data about load carriers that could be made available to the Army in case of a contingency.”
The statement said, “For this purpose, vehicles are spotted to get basic parameters like make load capacity etc. The vehicle is then marked so that the next checkpoint knows that the vehicle had already been checked for the parameters. There is nothing alarming about this and it is carried out as per government orders.”
“This is an annual exercise which is conducted by the Army. The representatives of the District Magistrate and the local police accompany the Army personnel. The current exercise was held after a meeting with representatives of the DM and local police officials at the HQ Bengal Area,” the Defence Ministry said.
The Army later added that the planned exercise was in the knowledge of the local administration in Kolkata and the West Bengal government.
The Army said that the exercise was initially planned to held from November 28-30 but was postponed to Nov 30-Dec 2 after Howrah police expressed doubts over carrying out the exercise on Nov 28, the day Left parties had organised a 'Bharat Bandh'.
However, Trinamool MPs raised the issue in Parliament today, only to be met with a strong counter attack by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
“The way a Chief Minister has talked about the Indian Army has shocked me. It was a routine exercise. It has been going on for the last 15-20 years, last year it was held in West Bengal from Nov 19-21,” he said.
The minister said that Eastern Command of the Indian Army is simultaneously carrying out similar exercises across other northeast states. He added that prior to the Eastern Command exercise, the Central Command had conducted the same drill at various locations spread across UP, Jharkhand, and Bihar.
Hitting out at Mamata Banerjee, Parrikar said, “It is wrong to turn a routine exercise into a political issue.”
“It is political frustration,” he added.