Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister P K Dhumal today complained to the prime minister and defence minister about the Army’s statement on Shimla’s Annandale ground, even as the Army sought to shift the blame to a civilian public relations officer from the information and broadcasting ministry and ordered an inquiry into the media release.
Dhumal, who was in New Delhi for the chief ministers’ security conference, said “indiscipline” was increasing in the Army, and repeated his threat — made yesterday — of suing for defamation.
“Indiscipline is increasing and Army officers are making press statements. Indiscipline in central forces is an issue of serious concern,” Dhumal told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the matter.
An Army release over the weekend had accused the state government of trying to take over the 121-bigha Annandale ground, a green patch and strategically important open area, “at the behest of the land mafia”. Dhumal retaliated, saying that the Army was in fact in “illegal occupation” of the ground.
“Some press statement was given. I have said if an unconditional apology is tendered it is fine, otherwise I am filing a defamation suit in the court,” Dhumal told The Indian Express today. “The allegations are without any basis. I don’t know why such a statement has been given. Now, let them face the result of giving such statements,” he said.
“The way the Army people are interfering in Shimla on the Annandale issue…, indiscipline is increasing,” Dhumal said. At a late-evening meeting, Dhumal is learnt to have handed over a copy of the Army’s press statement to Defence Minister A K Antony, who is learnt to have assured him that he would get the matter checked and take appropriate action.
The Army today blamed the release on a civilian public relations officer attached to the Western Command. Army Chief Gen. V K Singh struck a conciliatory note, saying the situation would be “rectified”.
“I will talk to the chief minister. Ours and the chief minister’s relationship is very good,” Gen. Singh told reporters. He said he had asked the Western Command about the release. “They (Western Command) have told us. They will rectify it and we have no problem with that.”
Sources said the defence ministry asked the Western Command for an explanation on Monday morning. The Army reportedly told the ministry that there had been a mistake in the release, issued by a civilian PRO under the information & broadcasting ministry. The attachment the PRO emailed was an internal document prepared by the Army to define its position on the ground, and was never meant to be circulated, the sources said.
Dhumal said by making allegations against the government of being in league with the mafia, the Army had cast aspersions on the office of the chief minister as well. “Linking the campaign with the land mafia is a direct aspersion on the chief minister… Making such an accusation is unacceptable, at least from Army officers,” Dhumal said.
Annandale became a battleground between the BJP government and the Army after BJP MP and Dhumal’s son Anurag Thakur began a campaign to have the ground returned to the government for developing a Rs 100-crore sports stadium.