The Indian Prime Minister has laughed off a media report which suggested that the nation’s army prepared its troops to stage a military coup in January.
Referring to a published report in The Indian Express newspaper that cited “unusual troop movement towards the capital Delhi in mid-January, Manmohan Singh dismissed such claims as absolutely baseless.
These are alarmist reports. They should not be taken at face value, he said, according to the Press Trust of India.
The article in question claimed that on the night of January 16-17, a whole mechanized infantry unit based in Hisar, Haryana (about 125 miles northwest of Delhi) started moving towards the capital, the same day that the chief of the army General Vijay Kumar Singh was due to speak to the Supreme Court about the controversy surrounding his true date of birth.
The report also suggested another large contingent of soldiers were approaching Delhi from Agra, about 130 miles to the south.
Defense Minister A.K. Antony also dismissed the validity of the report.
Absolutely baseless. [The] Army has already explained this. It is usual, natural activities. Nothing unusual. We are absolutely confident of the patriotism of the armed forces, he told a press conference.
Antony also defended the military from accusations it would ever engineer a coup in a democracy like India.
They [army] will not do anything to undermine Indian democracy, Antony said, adding that military personnel were true patriots.”
I am proud of the Indian Army, Navy, Air Force and the Coast Guard, he said.
Antony also asked the media not to exaggerate and spread such reports, since they could spark a panic in India.
I have a humble request to make. Issues like these affecting national security, Indian armed forces, we cannot make the luxury of these controversies which damage the honor and dignity of armed forces,” he said.
“India is a democracy. India will continue to remain a democracy. Indian armed forces will do everything to strengthen our national interest and they will be part of our democratic government. Please do not expect anything like this to happen anywhere else.
Antony also denied that there was any kind of communications cap between the army and the defense ministry.
Sitanshu Kar, a spokesman for the defense ministry, said in statement that the points raised in the report have already been clarified by the Army... such exercises are conducted by the Army from time to time.
Similarly, MM Pallam Rahu, the minister of state for defense, blasted the report as highly irresponsible and anti-national.
But not everyone is satisfied with the government’s explanation over the bizarre story.
India’s largest opposition party, the right-wing, nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), earlier asked Prime Minister Singh to tell the nation what precisely happened on Jan 16-17.
Balbir Punj, a BJP official, told reporters in New Delhi: This underlines the ugly reality of the present government... that it is suffering from a trust deficit.”
Punj added: “Now you have a situation where the cabinet ministers don't trust each other. [The] latest is that there is huge trust deficit between Indian Army and government and it is a very unprecedented situation.”
Punj also asked for heads to roll over the affair.
The defense minister must quit immediately because of his sheer inefficiency and inaction or the prime minister must sack him, as nothing else can redeem the situation, he said
In response to the BJP’s demands for his resignation, Antony replied: They are an opposition party. Service chiefs writing letter to PM and Defense Ministry is not unusual. It happens many a time. It will happen in future also. It is their duty.”
In an editorial, the paper wrote: “The report is a meticulous reconstruction and a very sober interpretation of the movement of two key Army units towards New Delhi on the night of January 16-17… the report draws on highly credible sources. They have chosen to be anonymous and the newspaper is committed to protecting their identity… The Indian Express' stands by the report.”
On Wednesday, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense questioned Defense secretary Shashi Kant Sharma and Army Vice Chief S.K. Singh on the matter and may continue to probe the controversy.
A military coup in India would be an unprecedented event. Unlike neighboring Pakistan, which has seen many such power shifts conducted by the army over its 65 years of existence, India has never really faced such a threat.