Responding to the bombshell of a story carried by an Indian newspaper on the suspicious military movements insinuating a military coup, Prime Minister Monmohan Singh Wednesday said that the reports were alarmist and should not be taken at face value.
Prominent Indian daily The Indian Express ran a story Wednesday with multiple reports of unexplained army movements towards the Indian capital on the night of January 16, suspiciously coinciding with the day Army Chief Gen VK Singh moved the Supreme Court on the controversial case regarding his date of birth.
The story quoted central intelligence agencies to establish certain dramatic developments during 18 very difficult hours on January 16-17: Essentially, late on the night of January 16 (the day Army Chief General V K Singh approached the Supreme Court on his date of birth issue), central intelligence agencies reported an unexpected (and non-notified) movement by a key military unit, from the mechanized infantry based in Hisar (Haryana) as a part of the 33rd Armored Division (which is a part of 1 Corps, a strike formation based in Mathura and commanded by Lt Gen. A K Singh) in the direction of the capital, 150 km away, the story said, adding that the Defense Ministry was not notified of the movement.
The report said that yet another military movement was reported on the same night towards Delhi, which was identified as a large element of the airborne 50 Para Brigade based in Agra.
This was the point when the Defense Ministry was alerted, which immediately initiated a contingency plan to thwart any kind of threat from the Army. According to the story, a terror alert was issued and police were instructed to check vehicles on the highways leading to Delhi.
The story, coauthored by Express editor and a veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta, was extra-cautious to not drop the word Coup, except for an indirect suggestion: Nobody is using the C word to imply anything other than Curious. All else is considered an impossibility.
Defense Minister A K Antony Wednesday categorically denied the report, calling it absolutely baseless.
Absolutely baseless. Army has already explained this. It is usual, natural activities. Nothing unusual. We are absolutely confident of the patriotism of the armed forces. Don't question their patriotism. They will not do anything to undermine Indian democracy, he told reporters in the South Indian city of Visakhapatnam.
The relations between the military and the government have been strained over the recent controversies involving Army chief V K Singh.
Singh, who enjoys an impeccable military record, was embroiled in an age-related controversy that cropped up last year. He was recently in the spotlight for revealing to The Hindu newspaper that he had been offered a Rs 14-crore bribe on behalf of the makers of the Tatra trucks.
Interestingly, the Army has not denied the troop movements, but has explained that they were exercises to check effectiveness in fog.
Troops moved towards Delhi, not outward, since Pakistan hadn't been notified, the Army clarified.
Meanwhile, opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has demanded Antony's resignation, and an explanation from the Prime Minister, alleging that the report had exposed lack of trust between the armed forces and the Defense Minister.
Senior BJP leader Balbir Punj said, The Prime Minister must clarify the situation and take the nation into confidence. Antony should resign or the Prime Minister must sack him. He should also explain why there is such a trust deficit between the government and the Army.