KOLKATA: Hitting back at Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar 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 today 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 Mr 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, Mr Parrikar wrote to Ms 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.
Ms Banerjee claimed that Mr 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”.
“On earlier occasions, such exercise was done in joint coordination with the state government and we used to provide full cooperation. But this time unfortunately, the Ministry of Defence had made a departure… You will appreciate that toll plaza data is readily available with the National Highway Authority of India and other agencies and exercise could have been avoided,” Ms Banerjee said.
She said that before undertaking any large-scale exercise in the civilian area in the state, the Defence Ministry should engage in correspondence “at the highest level of the state government and written clearance of the state government should be invariably obtained before intiation of any such exercise”.
Ms Banerjee also said the central government did not pay heed to the Kolkata Police’s objection to any exercise within 200 meters of the State Secretariat, which is a high-security zone.