West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee went home on Friday evening after spending 33 hours at the state secretariat, bringing to an end a high-pitch drama over a routine army exercise that she alleged was a Centre’s plot to wrest power in the state.
The Banerjee versus Centre faceoff began after army personnel were deployed at toll plazas for an annual exercise to collect road data for military movement in an emergency. One of the sites was near the multi-storeyed state secretariat, a high-security zone.
“I said I will not leave Nabanna (state secretariat) unless army deployments are withdrawn. I have kept my word. I have heard fresh army deployments are taking place in one or two areas. Army is being used as a tool of political vendetta by the Union government,” she said.
She promised to continue her protest against what she called “undemocratic actions”.
The latest episode follows Banerjee’s stinging criticism of the BJP-led Centre’s decision to recall 500- and 1,000-rupee notes, a move that wiped out 86% of the cash from the economy.
“The Union government is clueless on how to handle the demonetisation crisis. So, they are adopting such tactics to suppress my movement,” said the chief minister, who is trying to drum up nationwide support against the cash crunch.
For its part, the army dismissed allegations that the exercise was conducted without keeping the state government in the loop.
“The exercise was planned for the night of November 27-28. The dates were changed to November 30 and December 2 on a specific request from Kolkata police because of a Bharat Bandh on November 28,” Major General Sunil Yadav said.
He released nine documents, underscoring communication with police and state government departments. He also denied charges by the CM that army was collecting money at toll plazas.
Army's letters (written earlier) in connection with the force deployment in West Bengal. pic.twitter.com/YUm4BiOI5k— ANI (@ANI_news) December 2, 2016
But the army’s clarification failed to placate angry Trinamool Congress legislators and supporters. They staged a dharna in front of the governor’s home and sought an appointment with him.
Banerjee called Yadav’s statement a lie, saying the remarks are “baseless, distorted and far from being true”.
Minister and Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee alleged that the army deployment and a flight scare could be plots to assassinate the chief minister.