New Delhi: Parliament on Wednesday resonated with outrage and remained paralysed over Defence Minister AK Antony's statement on the killing of five Indian soldiers by the Pakistan Army along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led the charge against Antony and demanded his apology for giving an "escape route to the Pakistan Army" to deny involvement in the killings.
Protests by BJP members forced repeated adjournments in both Houses of Parliament before they closed for the day at 3 pm without transacting any substantive business. The government tried to defend Antony by terming the BJP's attack as politically motivated.
The BJP's onslaught was led by party veteran LK Advani, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley.
Advani read out the two statements made by the Army PRO on Tuesday and pointed to the contradictions. "It was not just a clash, it is a formal invasion. They (Pakistan Army) entered our border and killed our soldiers. Antony must explain why there is difference in both the statements and should apologise," he said.
Advani later told reporters in Parliament that the Defence Minister's statement on Tuesday had "intended to exonerate the Pakistan government and absolve it of the responsibility of killing the Indian soldiers". Asked why Antony would make a contradictory statement, he said, "I have a feeling the government wants to continue talks with Pakistan."
Swaraj raised Antony's statement even as a discussion was on over the Food Security Bill. "The Defence Minister changed the Army statement on the LoC firing. He should come and explain to the House. We cannot be appeasing Pakistan," she said in the Lok Sabha.
"They (Pakistan Army) come to kill and our Defence Minister says the Pakistan Army is not involved," she said amid chants of "shame shame" by BJP members.
In the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley termed the Defence Minister's statement as "ambiguous" and took a dig, saying he hoped it was a "typographical error".
At the heart of the controversy are two statements issued on Tuesday on the soldiers' killings. The one by the Indian Army blamed the killings on "heavily-armed terrorists along with regulars of the Pakistan Army". But the Defence Minister's statement suggested that the attack was carried out by "heavily-armed terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan Army uniform". When the discrepancy became evident, the Army revised its version to fall in line with Antony's statement.
Antony tried to clarify his position, telling Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that he had made the statement based on the information available. "This nation is one, Parliament is one. There will be no compromise," he added.
"When as Defence Minister I make a statement before Parliament on such a matter, I have to be very careful. I have to verify all the facts in detail. That is why I made a statement like that," Antony said. But the opposition was not satisfied.
Amid the political battle, the bodies of the five soldiers killed in Poonch sector were brought to Delhi in the evening. Earlier in the day, Army chief General Bikram Singh arrived in Jammu and paid tributes to the soldiers.
The family of one of the soldiers, Vijay Kumar Rai, has refused to accept a compensation of Rs 10 lakh offered by the Bihar government and demanded action against Pakistan.
In the evening, Advani led a delegation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, making it clear that the Opposition will not back down from its position when Parliament meets on Thursday. At the meeting, the government gave an assurance that Antony will make a statement clarifying his position on the issue.
The delegation, which included BJP chief Rajnath Singh, Swaraj and Jaitley, told the Prime Minister he should not meet his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York next month.
But External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said Indo-Pak talks are a continuing process and cannot be called off.
The Congress too said that issues with Pakistan can be resolved only through dialogue. "The talks should continue. When the BJP government was in power, did they not talk to Pakistan in Agra and Lahore? The talks shouldn't break down," said Congress spokesperson P C Chacko.
The Congress accused the BJP of politicising the issue. The party's youth wing also staged protests outside the Pakistan embassy in Delhi.
(With additional information from PTI)