Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said on Wednesday the government stood by its statement that a Pakistani fishing boat which entered Indian waters on New Year’s eve was blown up by its crew as a video showing a coast guard official apparently boasting about ordering the vessel's destruction went viral.
Controversy erupted after the Indian Express reported that BK Loshali, deputy inspector general of the coast guard, said on Monday he had ordered blowing up the boat, contradicting the government's version that four people on board the explosive-laden trawler set it on fire after being warned by Indian forces, causing it to explode.
Loshali later said he was misquoted by media, but the Indian Express released the video where he is heard saying: "Let me tell you. I hope you remember 31st December night. We blew off that Pakistan. We have blown them off.”
“I was there at Gandhinagar and I told at night, blow the boat off. We don't want to serve them biryani," he added during a function in Surat to mark the launch of a new interceptor boat.
Parrikar said the government would take action after probing the issue and he would seek a copy of the video recording to ascertain the facts. He also said he would release evidence next week to back the government’s stand on the Pakistani trawler which exploded in the Arabian Sea off Porbandar in Gujarat.
“The defence ministry had given a very clear statement. We stand by it," he told a new conference in Bengaluru. “If someone tomorrow makes a statement which is incorrect at the most you are making a case of a disciplinary proceeding against him. At the most if you prove that he has made the statement, you are making a case of taking action against him. It does not change ground reality." "It (India) not only imposed baseless and false allegations on Pakistan like in the case of Samjhauta Express, but was involved in treacherously killing four innocent lives on board. India has once again proved to be heinous in its face, designs and urge for peace," he said.
The coast guard has asked Loshali to explain his comments which are an embarrassment for the government as it seeks to re-engage with Pakistan and the foreign secretary looks set to resume peace talks.
Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif responded to reports of the video with a statement urging the international community to take notice of the incident which “tore off India’s veil of being a peaceful country of the region”. He added that Pakistan’s desire for peace and coexistence in the region "must not be seen as our weakness".
At the time of the incident, the defence ministry said the coast guard warned the suspicious fishing vessel to stop for investigation but the boat sped away, leading to 16 hours of drama on the high seas. The boat stopped after the coast guard fired warning shots but the four-man crew had by then set it on fire, triggering a major explosion that sank the trawler.
The suspicious behaviour of the boat’s crew brought back memories of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai when 10 gunmen travelled from Karachi in a boat, hijacked an Indian fishing vessel and steered it to Mumbai to go on a three-day rampage during which they killed 166 people.
The Congress also slammed the government, asking the defence minister to introspect as to what was a “bigger sin”: blowing the boat or “lying” to the nation.
“Def Min what is a bigger sin blowing the Paki boat or lying to the nation? If they were indeed terrorists why be ashamed of blowing them,” Congress leader Manish Tewari tweeted. “Uncanny similarities to similar modus operandi the fake encounter syndrome to bolster machismo & build Alpha image.”
Congress general secretary Ajay Maken said that instead of "threatening" a senior coast guard officer, the government should come out with the facts of the matter.