Former Army Chief V K Singh's claim that money was paid to ministers in Jammu and Kashmir from secret funds set off a political storm on Tuesday with ruling National Conference (NC) and ally Congress daring him to name the beneficiaries amid a demand for a CBI probe.
As the NC threatened legal action against Gen (retd) Singh if he failed to name the ministers, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said government was ready to probe if the beneficiaries were identified.
The Congress dubbed Singh's remark as irresponsible and not in national interest while the NC said he has done something "extremely wrong" on the issue of funding of political parties.
The former army chief had also allegedly claimed that state minister Ghulam Hasssan Mir was paid Rs.1.19 crore to destabilise the state government. But he subsequently on Tuesday denied that any money was given to topple the state government. He said the money given for "development works" in the border state was "not a bribe".
Mir has vehemently denied getting any money out of the army's secret funds.
Ministers in the National Conference (NC)-Congress coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir ridiculed V.K. Singh's statement that state ministers have been getting secret funds from the army.
National Conference provincial president Devender Rana asked V.K.Singh to name the ministers who have taken money. "If the name of any NC minister figures, he will be sacked by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah as the NC believes in morality and probity in public life."
"As far as (Ghulam Hassan) Mir is concerned, after the statement of General Singh, it is he who has to address to his conscience," Rana said in Srinagar.
"V K Singh should name politicians. He should reveal the names (of those to whom money was allegedly paid). If details are given, we can investigate," Shinde said.
In a statement bearing signatures of all the present and former NC Ministers, the ruling party said it will be forced to take legal recourse if he failed to name the ministers. It also said that the ministers concerned in the Omar Abdullah cabinet will quit if they are named by Singh, calling his allegations "absurd and far from truth".
Singh had on Monday claimed that "certain ministers" in J and K are given money by the Army for "stability" and that this has been going on since Independence.
Farooq Abdullah, President of J and K's ruling NC, demanded a CBI probe into the allegations made by Singh.
Singh's remark drew a sharp reaction from the Congress with former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad expressing shock and a party spokesman slamming him for his "irresponsible" statement.
"I have no knowledge about this and I am as curious as you are to know about the names of the persons who were being paid and who are being paid," he added.
Congress spokesperson P C Chacko said "irresponsible" statements from Singh brought "disgrace" to the Army.
J and K Sports minister and state Congress leader Taj Mohiuddin dared the former Army chief to name the ministers who were given funds.
BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the issue is not about an individual but about the weakening of an institution.
"That the government is doing all this (targeting Singh) is wrong as these are matters or national security," she said.
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi also waded into the row over Singh's remark, saying if he discloses Singh's advice to him years ago on counter-insurgency operations as the then chief of Eastern Army Command it would be a "big embarrassment" to everyone.
Opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed said the central government must restrain the army and intelligence agencies from trying to interfere in democratic institutions.
Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani said the former army chief's statement has only proved what the separatists have been saying for years, while others in the separatist camp contacted by IANS said "the so-called mainstream Kashmiri politicians are responsible for choking the political space in Kashmir".
Union Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh said in New Delhi that V.K.Singh and the media should show "some restraint because these are sensitive issues; these are things that cannot be discussed on television."
Union Health Minister and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said he was shocked at seeing the reports. "I myself have been the chief minister, so I was shocked to know about this. I have no clue...that these things are being done and are happening."
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said, "If any malfeasance is found, then action will be taken against any officer serving or retired."
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh wondered why the former army chief was making such revelations now.
Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the revelation "does not augur well for the country".
"It demoralises the services and it also goes to undermine institutions, in this case military intelligence," she said.
The BJP has termed the leak of the army report as personal vendetta against V.K. Singh because he was seated next to the party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at a rally in Rewari in Haryana.