Triggering uproar and disruptions in parliament, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stretched till Friday evening her overnight vigil at the state secretariat protesting against army deployment in the state's toll plazas allegedly without any intimation to her government.Banerjee left the secretariat "Nabanna" in neighbouring Howrah after staying put for 36 hours as the issue snowballed into a major row that saw Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar and the Indian Army's Eastern Command rubbishing her claims. Meanwhile, state Ministers staged a sit-in at the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata, and other Trinamool Congress leaders and activists hit the streets across the decrying the "attack on the country's federal structure". The party also sent videos of the army deployment at toll plazas to President Pranab Mukherjee.Before leaving the secretariat, Banerjee threatened to explore "legal options" if the army was not withdrawn, and dubbed the Centre as "arrogant".She said she had great respect for the army, but was "sad" in the manner in which they were being used for "political vendetta".
Banerjee, who is also the Trinamool Congress supremo, claimed that the army informed the police about their exercise only for one spot -- the toll plaza of Vidyasagar Setu near Nabanna."Police did not permit them to conduct such exercise. They did not give any intimation for other places where they undertook their exercise," she said.In the Lok Sabha, Parrikar said the army was conducting a routine exercise and the state government and the police knew about it in advance. He accused Banerjee of politicising the matter.In Kolkata, the Eastern Command showed papers detailing the correspondence between the army and the local police on the issue."We deny all charges with all contempt," said General Officer Commanding (officiating) Maj. Gen. Sunil Yadav.The army also termed as "baseless" Banerjee's charge that army personnel were collecting money from vehicles.The issue, coupled with the demonetisation fracas, deadlocked Parliament functioning.
In the Rajya Sabha, the matter was raised by Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad during Zero Hour, who sought a clarification from the government and a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.While Trinamool Congress MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy called it an attempt by the Centre to instill fear in the state, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati called the move an attack on the federal structure of the nation."Modi teri Hitlershahi, nahi chalegi, nahi chalegi (Modi, you can't govern like Hitler)," the opposition shouted and trooped near the Chairman's podium.Chairman Hamid Ansari adjourned the upper house till 2.30 p.m. amid the pandemonium. But as soon as it met again at 2.30 p.m., the opposition members, mainly of the Congress, resumed sloganeering and the house was adjourned for the day. In the Lok Sabha, Trinamool's Sudip Bandopadhyay raised the issue. The House saw much din, and finally Speaker Sumitra Mahajan adjourned the house for the day.Outside parliament, Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Delhi backed Banerjee."Things should happen within the knowledge of the state government. Mamataji is doing the right thing by voicing her concern," said UP's Akhilesh Yadav at a programme, while Delhi's Arvind Kejriwal said the state was targeted by the central government as Banerjee dared to slam demonetisation.
But in her own state, Banerjee drew flak from the opposition Congress, Left Front and the BJP for trying to use the army to score political brownie points. The BJP even demanded her resignation.The drama unfolded on Thursday evening when Banerjee alleged that the army has been deployed at the Dankuni and Palsit toll plazas on National Highway 2 (connecting Delhi and Kolkata) without informing her government and demanded to know whether a military coup has taken place, "The motive is political, vindictive, unconstitutional, unethical and undemocratic," she said, demanding the withdrawal of the army from the second Hooghly Bridge toll plaza, about 500 metres away. "I'll keep vigil to protect the democracy, to protect my democratically-elected government." Shortly after midnight, the Eastern Command said troops had been asked to withdraw from the toll plaza near Nabanna as the required data had already been collected.Past 2 a.m., Banerjee -- holding her third media conference since evening -- stuck to her decision to spend the night there, arguing that the army may return.