Kolkata: After spending the night at the secretariat, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stayed put there on Friday demanding "withdrawal of the army" from the state and alleging it has been done by keeping her government "in the dark".
Accusing the central government of "deploying the army" along a highway toll plaza at the second Hooghly Bridge, about 500 metres from the secretariat 'Nabanna' in neighbouring Howrah district, Banerjee had said she would not leave till the army was withdrawn from there.
"I'll keep vigil to protect the democracy, to protect my democratically elected government," she said.
Shortly 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 the evening — reiterated she would spend the night at Nabanna, fearing the army may be back.
"The army has withdrawn from the second Hooghly Bridge after 2 am. They will definitely come back. After Nabanna, they have entered various districts. The army has been deployed in 80 per cent of the areas," she said.
"I'll remain awake all night to keep vigil. I will spend the night at Nabanna," she said.
In the morning, Banerjee held parleys with senior police officers and bureaucrats on the issue.
Trinamool Congress sources said a pen-drive containing videos of the army activities at the second Hooghly bridge toll plaza has been forwarded to President Pranab Mukherjee.
The riveting drama unfolded on Thursday evening, when Banerjee alleged the army has been deployed at the Dankuni and Palsit toll plazas on National Highway 2 (connecting Delhi and Kolkata) without informing the state government.
Banerjee said the Chief Secretary was writing to the central government and that she would approach Mukherjee seeking clarification on the issue.
The Defence Ministry said the army was conducting routine exercise with full knowledge of and co-ordination with West Bengal police.
"The army conducts the annual exercise throughout the country with the aim of getting statistical data about the load carriers that could be made available to the army in case of a contingency," said a Defence Ministry spokesman.
Banerjee rubbished the spokesman's clarification.
"Absolutely wrong and misleading facts by @easterncomd. We have great respect for you, but please please don't mislead the people," she tweeted.
Banerjee, also supremo of the ruling Trinamool Congress, said she has collected information from Maharashtra, Kerala, Odisha and Chhattisgarh and nowhere such a thing was been done.
"Why is it been done in Bengal? Is it because I am speaking for the people?" she asked, claiming the army has been positioned in Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Darjeeling, North 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Kolkata, Murshidabad and Burdwan districts.
"The secretariat Nabanna' is a sensitive zone. The toll plaza on the second Hooghly Bridge is within the sensitive zone. It is under our secretariat," she said.
Demanding to know whether a military coup has taken place, she said: "The motive is political, vindictive, unconstitutional, unethical and undemocratic."
"Even if the Army carried out a mock exercise, the state government should have been kept in the loop. If this is happening in a civil area in Bengal, this could happen in Bihar, next in Uttar Pradesh, then in Tamil Nadu and other states as well. It is a very serious situation and it is dangerous than Emergency. We are facing an extremely black day," she said.
"I'll urge all state governments to look into the matter. A team of Opposition... all political leaders... will meet the President (soon)," she said.
On the other hand, the spokesman said the routine exercise was being carried out in all states of the eastern region.
"Permission for carrying out this exercise in West Bengal was initially sought for November 28. On specific request of the police the date had been shifted to 1 December. No permission has been withdrawn so far," the spokesman added.
"Routine exercise in all NE states. In Assam @ 18 places, Arunanchal@13, WB@19, Manipur@6, Nagaland@5, Meghalaya@5, Tripura & Mizoram," the Eastern Command tweeted.
Trinamool leader in the Rajya Sabha, Derek O'Brien,termed as "incorrect" the army claim that the exercises were carried out in coordination with the police.
"All respect for army, but must set record straight 1. Data is already available 2. Cannot do vehicle check, not authorised to do so. Saying exercise by @easterncomd was coordinated with the police is absolutely incorrect," he twitted on Friday.
In a separate post on his twitter handle, O'Brien said: "Also, troops were moved into districts even after midnight. Bengal Chief Minister kept watch from the Secretariat overnight. She is still there."