Bengaluru/Ahmedabad: The NDA government Wednesday found itself in a spot over a senior Coast Guard official's remarks disputing its stand that a Pakistani vessel trying to sneak into India had blown itself up. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said he would inquire into the matter while indicating possible disciplinary action against the officer.
He 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 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.
Sources said that within hours of Parrikar's statement, the Coast Guard issued a show cause notice to Loshali, who apparently said in Surat Monday: "Let me tell you. I hope you remember 31st December night. We blew off that Pakistan boat. 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."
These remarks were aired by television channels minutes after the defence minister was asked about the Indian Express story Wednesday about the officer.
Later, in the day when Parrikar was speaking on the matter, the Express put up a video on its website of Loshali speaking at the launch of an interceptor boat in Surat.
But in a u-turn, Loshali, who is 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 in Bengaluru.
"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."
Parrikar also asserted that the ministry "stands to what it had stated".
The minister had said in January that occupants of the vessel were "suspected terrorists" and did not appear to be smugglers. He said that those aboard decided to blow themselves up instead of surrendering.
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 blown up 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 asked the government to come clean 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 and asked in a tweet if it is "a bigger sin blowing the Paki boat or lying to the nation?"
AAP leader Ashutosh said one hand of the government does not know what the other was doing.