New Delhi, Dec 2 : Terming the protest by the West Bengal Chief Minister over the presence of armymen at toll plazas as “cheap political stunt”, Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu today said an attempt was being made to drag the Army into an “unnecessary controversy”. He said this was a routine exercise being undertaken after informing the authorities in the state. The deployment of armymen at toll plazas was raised in Parliament by the Opposition and the TMC claimed that the move was a “challenge” to the federal structure of the country and was completely “politically motivated”.

“This is a routine exercise. It happened last year, it has happened this year. So why suddenly this issue?” Naidu asked. Talking to reporters outside Parliament, he said, “This is nothing but a cheap political stunt to defame the government and dragging the Army into an unnecessary controversy where none exists. It is highly deplorable.” Taking on the Opposition, he said, “It is a dirty campaign launched by some of our political opponents. Routine army exercise is being undertaken in different states of the country.

This is an ongoing exercise, collecting data in all the North-eastern states, including Assam, Arunachal, Bengal, Nagaland, Tripura and Mizoram by Eastern Command of the Army.” Giving details, he said, “Personnel of the Army consisting of five or six unarmed personnel in each point are collecting data of heavy vehicles. This is an annual exercise. This exercise is carried out every year. “In the same location, the same exercise was carried out on November 19 and 21 last year with the same government and the same Chief Minister in the state. Similar exercise has also been carried out in Jharkhand, UP, and Bihar under South Western Command.”

Naidu also dismissed as “baseless” the charge that armymen were collecting toll charges and said this was not good for the country. “The allegation of collecting toll is also baseless. This exercise was carried out after informing the Kolkata Police. The date was changed after the request of the Kolkata Police. So where is the question of not keeping the state in the loop?” he asked. Pointing out at the main opposition party, he said, “The Congress has ruled the country for 50 years and they are also joining the issue. It is sad.” Commenting on Rahul’s statement that the Prime Minister was practicing TRP politics, Naidu counter-charged the Congress and said the party has become “irrelevant”.