Former army chief V.K. Singh Tuesday attempted to clarify his admission that ministers in Jammu and Kashmir had been paid from secret army funds but triggered a political storm with demands that his allegations be probed and for identifying those who had so benefited.
The Congress questioned the timing of his revelations, while the state's ruling National Conference threatened him with legal action if he did not disclose the names, opposition People's Democratic Party sought curbs on such activities while separatist elements said the revelations had proved their claims about "mainstream politicians" in the state.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, contended that the former army chief, who had participated in the recent rally of its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Haryana, had been forced to speak as attempts were being made to corner him.
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the former army chief should name the ministers and assured a probe, while union New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry.
Union Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh said in New Delhi that Singh and the media should show "some restraint because these are sensitive issues; these are things that cannot be discussed on television".
Addressing media persons in Gurgaon, the former army chief sought to clarify that the money was "not meant to line their pockets" but aimed at attracting youth to constructive work and creating goodwill.
He also demanded a probe into the "leak" of report by board of officers which looked into functioning of Technical Support Division (TSD), an intelligence unit made fully operational during his tenure, terming the leak an act of "treason".
The former army chief is under attack over reports that during his tenure, secret army funds were being misused to topple the Jammu and Kashmir government and that state minister Ghulam Hassan Mir was paid Rs.1.19 crore to destabilise it.
Mir has vehemently denied getting any money out of the army's secret funds.
Singh said: "That money was not for their personal work, or political work. If someone thinks bribe was paid, it is totally wrong... These things cannot be done in uniform, so intelligence unit did that."
"It (the funds) were meant solely for stability, to win hearts and minds of people, to wean people away from separatist activities under the overall umbrella of sadbhavna (harmony)," he said, adding such activities are carried out by the army in many areas and were not limited to Jammu and Kashmir.
Rejecting the contention that TSD was his "private army", he wondered if the report was "leaked" to cover up certain "burning issues".
He also claimed that had the unit not been disbanded, incidents along the Pakistan and China borders would not have taken place.
The issue evoked strong reactions in Kashmir.
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.
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 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.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, meanwhile, wondered why the former army chief was making such revelations now.
BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, however, said the former army chief had been forced to speak as efforts were being made to entrap him, while party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the revelation "does not augur well for the country" as it "demoralises the services and it also goes to undermine institutions".