Did the army chief arrange for two units to "practice mobilisation" towards Delhi as a warning to the MoD not to sack him for going to court on the date of birth issue? We might never know the answer!
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th Apr 12
An army under effective gag orders is reacting with incredulousness and outrage to a The Indian Express report on Wednesday, under a banner headline, which recounted an “unexpected” and “non-notified” move of two army units towards Delhi on the day that army chief, General VK Singh, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the government on a personal issue relating to his date of birth. The word “coup” does not feature in the report, which instead highlights “confusion and unease” within the top echelons of government at a time of a “strained… political-military relationship.”
Senior serving army generals, talking on the condition of anonymity to Business Standard because Ministry of Defence (MoD) orders prohibit them from speaking to the media, dismiss the idea of a threatened coup. They point out multiple inaccuracies in the Indian Express story, which they say has been “spiced up” without basis.
The Indian Express report suggests near panic in the government after central intelligence agencies detected, on the night of 16th Jan, army movement towards Delhi from the cantonments of Hisar (165 km away in Haryana); and from Agra (204 km away in UP). According to the Indian Express, the government recalled the defence secretary, Shashi Kant Sharma from Malaysia; he arrived in Delhi and summoned the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), Lt Gen AK Choudhary to a late-night meeting in his MoD office to “explain what was going on.” Later, he “was told to send the units back immediately.”
Top generals flatly deny this. “It is completely false that the defence secretary summoned the DGMO and passed orders to him to send back the units. There was no meeting between the two, nor were any units ordered to return to their locations. The units had come out for training and they left on their own after completing that training,” says a senior army headquarters officer who was privy to events.
Business Standard has learnt that the unit that had come from Hisar was 20 Mechanised Infantry Battalion, a new arrival in that station that was undergoing its initial familiarisation. The “unit” from the Agra-based 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade was actually a mix of small Special Forces teams.
Senior serving officers are emphatic that there are no protocols or regulations that require “any military movement, at any time, in the NCR (National Capital Region) to be pre-notified to MoD,” as the Indian Express story asserts.
“Army units move every day of the week towards Delhi; into Delhi; and within Delhi. These include vehicle convoys of units going on firing or training exercises; as well as vehicle convoys of units that are moving on permanent transfer from one station to another, a journey that every combat unit makes every two or three years. These unit convoys often make administrative halts in Delhi,” says a brigadier who coordinates army movements.
The army’s greatest irritation stems from the implicit suggestion in the Indian Express story that the move of two units to Delhi could be seen as a threat to the government. “There are two full infantry brigades and an artillery brigade permanently located in Delhi. That adds up to ten fully armed units in Delhi, 365 days of the year. That is the level of mutual trust between the government and the army. Mischievous news reports like (the Indian Express story) seek to undermine this trust,” points out an army lieutenant general.
These officers also say that the permanent army garrison in Delhi was supplemented during January by thousands of troops from the contingents that come to participate in the Army Day and Republic Day parades.
The army’s public relations interface, the Army Liaison Cell, has been approached for an official response, as also the MoD’s Directorate of Public Relations (DPR). So far, there has been no response.