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TMC raises 'military coup' issue in Parliament, defence minister says no need for controversy

'It's sad that a routine exercise has been made into a controversy now,' said Manohar Parrikar.

The Trinamool Congress raised the issue of Army personnel being stationed in almost all districts in West Bengal in Parliament on Friday. On Thursday, TMC leader and state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had likened Army presence in the state to an attempted “military coup”. She had accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre of “harassing people for political gains”. The Army, however, has said it was part of a routine operational exercise.

Leader of the TMC in the Lok Sabha, Sudip Bandopadhyay, alleged the Army was “covering big important toll plazas and controlling bridges” operated by the state government, The Indian Express reported. “We will be very vocal about this in both houses,” Bandopadhyay said. “It is as if some emergency is going to be proclaimed in West Bengal.” TMC MP Derek O’Brien said Army personnel were still deployed in over a dozen districts in Bengal.

However, Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar refuted the TMC’s claims and said the party was reacting to the issue out of “political frustration”. “It’s sad that a routine exercise has been made into a controversy now,” Parrikar said. The exercise was supposed to take place on December 28, 29 and 30 but was shifted to earlier dates at the request of the Kolkata Police, Parrikar said.

Separately, Union Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre said a “similar exercise” was carried out at the same location last year. Refuting Bhamre’s statement, the TMC alleged that the government was misleading the Rajya Sabha on the issue and was not providing a conclusive answer on the deployment of Army personnel.

Army Major General Sunil Yadav on Friday said the exercise involved gathering data on the availability of load carriers at all major entry points in north-eastern states including West Bengal, ANI reported. Between five to six unarmed Army personnel were posted across 80 such points in the entire region, Yadav said, adding that similar operations had already been carried out in other states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

Earlier on Thursday, leaders from her Trinamool Congress party had claimed that a flight carrying the chief minister on Wednesday was delayed and made to hover over Kolkata airport for 30 minutes because of an alleged plot to kill her. The airline concerned, IndiGo, had denied allegations that the flight was low on fuel during the delay. The party leaders had earlier said Banerjee was targeted because of her opposition to the Centre’s move to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.

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