This week, The Indian Express published a full-page story claiming that the Indian Army had moved two units towards New Delhi without notifying the government on January 16. The story suggested, without actually using the “c” word, that the hitherto apolitical Indian Army was contemplating a coup.
The reverberations in the Indian polity were understandably deafening. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led his United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in contemptuously rejecting the report, dubbing it “alarmist.”
On the sidelines of a Padma award function in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, he explained: “The defense ministry has clarified the position. These are alarmist reports. These should not be taken at face value. The Army chief's office is an exalted office. All of us have an obligation to do nothing that lowers its dignity.”
Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh, currently on an official visit to Nepal, meanwhile dismissed the report as “absolutely stupid.”
But even as the UPA government denied the report, it apparently tasked the Intelligence Bureau (IB) with conducting a detailed and discreet probe into the circumstances leading to the publication of the information. IB has been asked by the government to find out which government officials the newspaper was in touch with in the past 11 weeks.
The issue dominated the proceedings of the Parliamentary Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday, where a number of MPs engaged in a heated debate. Defense Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma explained the government’s position on the subject, and dismissed the newspaper report as “exaggerated” and “loose talk.” Sharma told the Committee that the reported Army movement was nothing but the normal process of preparedness and the Defense Ministry would be giving a detailed reply at the panel’s next meeting on April 9.
The Indian Army also rubbished the report, saying that routine training at the formation level is carried out to check mobilization according to standard operating procedure. It maintained that almost all Army units undertake this procedure at regular intervals, and once effectiveness is checked, the troops are called back. The ministry contended that in this case, too, the troops were indeed called back as normal.
Still, the report provided ammunition for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party,which demanded that Defense Minister A.K. Antony be sacked. The BJP’s Balbir Punj said the defense minister must be held accountable. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter that the “PM should clear the air so that confidence of people is not moved.”