Hitting back at Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar for saying her opposition to presence of army troops at toll plazas can “adversely” impact the armed forces’ morale, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday said her complaint was against the government policy, not the army.
“My complaint was not against the army. It was against your government and the government policy, as they act under your directions. We have great respect for their nationalism and professionalism,” Mamata said in a strongly-worded two-page letter to Parrikar.
She also expressed surprise at how the Defence Minister’s letter addressed to her was flashed on the electronic media hours before it reached her.
She said that in her long political and administrative life, she had “never seen such political vendetta by misusing the role of an esteemed organisation”.
“I take strong exception to your wild assertion that my articulation of the rights of the state government vis-a-vis army deployment without clearance has impacted the morale of the armed forces. “Your general observations about political parties and politicians to have the luxury of making wild and unsubstantiated allegations may be apt for your party, but we do not belong to that group,” she said.
Earlier, Parrikar wrote to Banerjee expressing “deep pain” over her allegations against the army for its recent exercise at toll gates in the state and said they can “adversely” impact the morale of the armed forces.
Banerjee claimed that Parrikar in his letter “chosen to convey the laughable idea that you are the sole spokesperson on behalf of the people at large”.
“I don’t think that it behoves a minister of the Union government to pass near defamatory remarks on a chief minister of any state and I trust that you will rectify this attitude,” she said.
The Chief Minister maintained that the Defence Ministry “has not taken prior permission of the state government for large deployment of army personnel in civilian areas”.
The presence of the army on a crucial Kolkata bridge last week sparked a political fight with the Trinamool Congress alleging the Centre was arm-twisting the state and the BJP blaming Banerjee of politicising a regular military action.
The war of words followed a night of drama after Banerjee refused to step out of the state secretariat Nabanna to protest against the “sudden deployment” of the army in the area.
Terming it as “avoidable controversy” over the exercise carried out by the Eastern Command in West Bengal and other states under the jurisdiction to collect information about the movement of heavy vehicles at toll gates, Parrikar, in his letter to Banerjee dated December 8, said it is carried out by all formations of the army all across the country for many years.
He said the exercises are held as per the dates convenient to the army in consultation with agencies of the state government.
Describing Indian army as the “most disciplined institution of the country”, he said the nation is proud of their “professionalism and apolitical conduct”.