The Coast Guard was caught in an embarrassing situation on Wednesday after a video emerged of one of its officials claiming credit for the destruction of a Pakistani boat that entered Indian waters on new year's eve, prompting Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to say he would order an inquiry into the matter.
The controversy was triggered by Deputy Inspector General B K Loshali's claim at an official event in Surat on Monday that he ordered Coast Guard personnel to "blow" up the Pakistani vessel. After the Coast Guard denied the claim, the Indian Express - which first reported the issue - released a video of Loshali purportedly making the controversial remarks.
"I hope you remember 31st December night, we blew off the Pakistan (sic). We have blown them off," Loshali is heard saying in the video shot during the function in Surat to mark the launch of a new interceptor boat.
"I was there at Gandhinagar and I told at night blow the boat off. We don't want to serve them biryani…," he added in the video lasting less than two minutes that was posted by the Indian Express on its Twitter feed.
Speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of the Aero India expo in Bengaluru, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar reiterated his ministry's contention that the Pakistani boat was involved in suspected terrorist activities but said he would order a probe into Loshali's comments.
"I will make (an) inquiry, examine the video and will take action against the particular person if required," he said in response to a volley of questions from reporters.
"You are at the most making a case of disciplinary action for making a wrong statement," he said.
Referring to the sinking of the boat, Parrikar said: "We stick to our stand. We stand by what we said on the facts of the case...The issue is closed."
Parrikar further contended that the government could not be held responsible for incorrect statements made by any of the 15 to 16 lakh armed forces personnel.
Loshali's remarks were in marked contrast to claims by the defence ministry and Parrikar that Pakistani militants on the boat blew it up after being cornered by Indian forces.
Earlier in the day, Coast Guard deputy director general KR Nautiyal said he had received a written statement from Loshali that said he did not subscribe to what was reported in the media.
Loshali, who is Chief of Staff to the Coast Guard's commander for the North West region, told a news conference in Ahmedabad: "The operation was not being handled by me. I was not privy to it completely. I reiterate the boat set herself on fire and was not sunk by Coast Guard."
The defence ministry and the Coast Guard had said in January that the Pakistani boat, identified as Qalandar, was involved in an "illicit transaction" and its crew had blown themselves up after an hour-long chase on the seas.
"The Coast Guard ship warned the fishing boat to stop for further investigation of the crew and cargo; however, the boat increased speed and tried to escape away from the Indian side of maritime boundary. The hot pursuit continued for nearly one hour and the Coast Guard ship managed to stop the fishing boat after firing warning shots," the defence ministry had said in a statement on January 2.
"Four persons were seen on the boat who disregarded all warnings by the Coast Guard ship to stop and cooperate with investigation. Soon thereafter, the crew hid themselves in below deck compartment and set the boat on fire, which resulted in explosion and major fire on the boat."
Three days later, Parrikar had said that "circumstantial evidence" indicated the Pakistani boat had suspected terror links. Parrikar said he would classify the crew as "suspected or possible terrorists" as the suicidal act of setting the boat on fire after being intercepted indicated a suspected terror link.
"A normal boat, even carrying some drugs, can throw away their drugs and surrender. No one is going to kill himself unless you are motivated enough to do that," he said.
Pakistan had rejected India's allegations about the boat as "baseless and preposterous".