West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee continued to stay put at the state secretariat today protesting against army presence at toll plazas in several parts of the state and asked whether it was an "army coup".
Army personnel, however, had left the toll plaza near the secretariat on Thursday night. Speaking to reporters late night on Thursday at 'Nabanna', the state secretariat, she said, "I will stay at the secretariat to guard our democracy". "Is this a military coup," she asked.
She said that army personnel were there in different districts like Murshidabad, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, North 24 Paragans, Burdwan, Howrah, Hooghly etc. "The army is deployed without informing the state government. This is unprecedented and a very serious matter", she had said.
The TMC leadership has decided to raise the issue in both the houses of Parliament and also inform President Pranab Mukherjee about the incident.
"We are talking to all political parties. We are planning to raise the issue in Parliament today. Lets see," TMC national spokesperson Derek O' Brien told PTI. A senior TMC leader on condition of anonymity said, "We are planning to meet President Pranab Mukherjee and inform him about the incident. The entire country should know, how BJP is engaged in vindictive politics,".
The senior TMC leader said they have spoken to Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and discussed how to counter this issue jointly. Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel had called up Banerjee in the morning and inquired about the incident.
A defence spokesperson had said that the army conducts bi-annual exercise throughout the country with an aim of getting statistical data about the load carriers that could be made available to the army in case of a contingency.
"There is nothing alarming about this and it is carried out as per government orders", Wing Commander S S Birdi had said. The army had said they were conducting routine exercise with full knowledge and coordination with West Bengal police.
Derek O'Brien, however, said the army claim that the exercises were conducted in coordination with police was "incorrect". "All respect for army, but must set record straight 1) Data is already available 2. Cannot do vehicle check, not authorized to do so. Saying exercise by @easterncomd was coordinated with police is absolutely incorrect. Also, troops were moved into districts even after midnight. Chief minister kept watch from Secretariat overnight. She is still there," Brien said on twitter.
Major General Sunil Yadav, while briefing the media said that "The deployment was a routine exercise and is being carried out in nine other states as well, the operation will end tonight." When asked if the army had informed the state officials about the exercise, he asserted that "It was communicated to the state police on phone that this exercise will be conducted." He added that such an exercise was also conducted last year, from 19 to 21 November with a troop of the same size and strength. He categorically denied the allegations on army put by TMC.
With inputs from PTI