Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said he will hold an inquiry and possibly take “disciplinary” action against a Coast Guard officer who sparked off controversy with his remarks – captured on video – that he ordered a Pakistani boat allegedly trying to sneak into Indian waters be blown up.
Parrikar also said the government “stands by its statement” that the boat was blown up by the “suspected terrorists” themselves and was prepared to release evidence to this effect.
Coast Guard Deputy Inspector General (DIG) B.K. Loshali had Monday apparently said: “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.”
Loshali’s remarks were aired by television ch
annels minutes after the defence minister was asked about the Indian Express story, which had highlighted the officer’s statement.
The daily Wednesday ran the story about Loshali’s claims. Later, in the day when Parrikar was speaking on the matter, it put up a video on its website of Loshali speaking at the launch of an interceptor boat in Surat Feb 16 and where he made the remarks about the Pakistani ‘terror’ boat.
But in a u-turn, Loshali, who is also chief of staff of the Coast Guard’s northwest region, denied making the comments.
Facing a volley of questions on Loshali’s remarks, Parrikar said: “I will make inquiry. Take the video copy. We will take action against the person if he made the statement.”
“If someone makes a statement which is incorrect, you are making a case of disciplinary proceedings,” he told reporters at the Aero India 2015 show that was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi here.
“You have to understand my position. There are 15-16 lakh service personnel, if someone makes a statement which is factually incorrect I will take action after inquiring into it.”
“Defence ministry stands to what it had stated,” he said.
Parrikar had said in early January that occupants of the vessel that blew up and sank off the coast of Gujarat were “suspected terrorists” and did not appear to be smugglers.
He had said that those aboard decided to blow themselves up instead of surrendering.
The defence minister had also said that another boat was also traced but it was in international waters.
The suspicious boat was intercepted by the Coast Guard based on an intelligence input Dec 31, after it was traced in the Arabian Sea, 365 km off Porbandar in Gujarat. The dramatic incident was a reminder of the manner Pakistani terrorists sneaked into Mumbai in 2008.
The vessel, which had set off from near Karachi on New Year’s Eve, turned into a ball of fire and sank after its occupants, believed to be four in number, apparently set fire to it early Jan 1.
The defence minister’s statement came just hours after Loshali refuted the media reports.
Addressing a press conference in Ahmedabad, Loshali said media reports quoting him as saying that he ordered that the suspected boat be blasted were wrong and not factual.
“The operation was not handled by me. I was not fully privy to it,” he maintained.
The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party took on the government on the issue.
Congress leader P. C. Chacko said that the “whole thing looks confused” and they felt that “the defence minister should come out with a statement”.
Party leader Manish Tewari took a dig at Parrikar.
“Mr 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 out of water. Uncanny similarities to similar modus operandi the fake encounter syndrome to bolster machismo & build Alpha image,” Tewari said in a tweet.
The AAP also mocked the Modi government.
“This reflects the functioning of the government. A senior official is saying something and the government is saying something else. This is like one hand does not know what the other is doing,” said AAP leader Ashutosh.