Rtd general confirms report that Govt feared coup in 2012

NEW DELHI: A retired Lt-Gen of Indian army has confirmed an earlier newspaper report that the "highest levels" of the UPA government were spooked by the unexpected movement of troops in 2012.

Lt Gen AK Choudhary, who was Director General of Military Operations at the time, has now come on record to verify the movement of Army units in January 2012, as reported by The Indian Express,  that the UPA government reportedly perceived as threatening.

The controversial report was published almost two years ago on April 4, 2012 and it claimed that ties between India’s civilian and military establishment were so strained under the then chief, General V K Singh, that the government feared a military ‘coup’ was being attempted as it perceived the supposed troop movement on the streets of Delhi, apparently moving towards Raisina Hill- the President of India’s official residence as an intimidating move engineered by the General.

The Indian Express has now come out with what it calls a confirmation by LT-Gen A K Choudhary that there was indeed alarm at the highest levels of the UPA government in mid-January 2012 over the “movement” of two “Army units” near New Delhi. So much so that then defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma summoned him shortly before midnight and told him that he “had just come back from the highest seat of power and that they are worried”.

Choudhary says he was told to immediately send the “troops” back and file a report to the government which he did the very next day.

Correspondent Manu Pubby, reporting for the newspaper from Patna writes that “This confirmation comes after almost two years of denial by both the government and the Army of any such incident, which was first investigated and reported by The Indian Express in 2012.

That report was called “absolute rubbish” by Defence Minister A K Antony; the then chief, General V K Singh, speaking to The Hindu on April 7, 2012, called it “fables of a sick mind” and claimed that “no clarification was sought by the government”.

Speaking to The Indian Express in Patna Thursday, three weeks after his retirement as Bengal Area Commander, Choudhary said that the confusion was created due to increasing distrust “between two individuals” and “immaturity” on both sides. And that the entire situation could have been avoided if there was proper communication. “I did feel bad because I am in touch with the defence ministry on an hourly basis and, still, they didn’t raise this with me earlier,” he said.

Choudhary admitted that the troop movements “could have been avoided” if it was known that V K Singh was approaching the Supreme Court on the matter of his date of birth against the government on the same day- January 16th, 2012.

Choudhary has confirmed, the newspaper insists, that he was called in by then defence secretary to explain the movement of a mechanised infantry unit from Hisar and a paratroopers detachment from Agra late at night on the same day.

Choudhary has revealed that a day before his meeting with the defence secretary, he (Choudhary) had come to know about the movement of the Hisar unit near Delhi after a senior officer in charge of formations near the capital called him, alerting about concerns of intelligence agencies. Choudhary said he had ordered this unit to halt and turn back a day before the defence secretary called him.

The current claims are in line with the Indian Express’ original report of 2012 where, its editor Shekhar Gupta had written that “This is a story you would tell with extreme care and caution. But it so starkly characterises the current state of top-level politico-military relations that it is a folly to keep it under wraps, as the entire establishment has tried to do for a full 11 weeks now. It has also taken this team of The Indian Express reporters that long to establish the story and the dramatic developments during, say, about 18 very difficult hours on January 16-17 earlier this year. While many, including the spokesmen for the defence establishment, say it was much ado about nothing, it is a story of a most unusual night when Raisina Hill was spooked as never before in peace time.”

The latest report is an attempt to corroborate the previous one. Many analysts and journalists had rubbished the earlier report as an attempt by the newspaper to manufacture a version of the actual events that suited the political establishment, to create a stand-off between the army and the civilian administration. The ‘coup’ they complained was in fact being waged by Shekhar Gupta himself.

In the latest report, Indian Express describes the meeting AK Chaudhary had with defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma on January 16. The top officer said: “At around 11 pm, I got a call to come to office. The defence secretary had called me. I first informed the chief (V K Singh) and then went to meet the defence secretary. He (defence secretary) said he had just come back from the highest seat of power and that they are worried. He said bataiye kya ho raha hai. (Tell me what’s happening). I told him that this was an exercise and I have already told them to stop and take a different route. He said to me that they should be told to go back quickly. I said that they will go as per the drill as there is method to their movement and in any case they would have gone back after the exercise.

“He (Sharma) then asked about the para movement (para commando troops from Agra) also. I was initially not aware of it. They had been coming for training and going back. They used to come and go from that area in the past also. After the meeting, I also told them to carry out no further movement and asked them to go back in smaller groups.”

Choudhary recalled how he had discovered the movements of mechanised columns a day earlier. “On the evening of January 15 (a day before I was called by the Defence Secretary), I got a call at about 11-11.30 pm from one of the senior officers in charge of a formation looking after Delhi Area, inquiring about some troop movements. He must have been asked by some intelligence fellows. I told him I did not know, and said let me find out. I then asked the Corps Commander (1 Corps) concerned, who said there was nothing and that they were just doing an exercise that had been discussed in the past. May be, he had discussed this with the Chief and other senior officers. From what I gathered, they were checking out the time it takes to move these troops.”

Choudhary said that behind the confusion was the deepening trust deficit between the government and the Army. “I think the (Defence) Ministry and the IB (Intelligence Bureau) got excited and made their impression on the basis of the last five to six months when things had gone to a level where there had been distrust among people- two individuals. There was immaturity on both sides. Immaturity on the part of the commanders I don’t know, if he knew about the dates (court) or had he had thought on these lines, he could have stopped it. But I don’t think he thought on those lines.” he said.

On the lessons learnt, Choudhary said that the Army submitted a written report detailing the troop movements on January 17 and explained in detail that the troops were moving as part of a planned exercise. He further said that a few months down the line, instructions were passed that the government needs to be informed of all army movements near the national capital.

It needs to be remembered that former army General V K Singh, born on 10th May 1951, served as the 26th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army. He was the first commando to be promoted general and was also the first serving Indian military chief to take the Government to court.

He became Chief of Army Staff on 31 March 2010. Towards the end of his career there was a dispute regarding the incumbent's date of birth and this caused General VK Singh to become the first serving officer of the Indian Army to take the government to court. As a consequence of an error made when he had enrolled with the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1965, official records mis-stated the year in which he was born. He withdrew the writ in February 2012 when, according to The Hindu, the Supreme Court "refused to intervene". The Court noted that there was no dispute regarding his actual date of birth and that the matter being contested was regarding how that had been recorded. It ruled that Singh had on three occasions accepted the mis-recorded date.

The BBC noted in 2012 that defence experts considered a drive to modernise the Indian army had suffered from "a lack of planning and acrimony between the military and the defence ministry". This report followed an interview given by Singh in March 2012 that had caused a political row. Singh said that over a year earlier he had reported to Defence Minister A.K Antony, that he had been offered a bribe of US$2.7 million if the army bought several hundred sub-standard vehicles. Antony issued a rebuttal to the interview, saying  he had requested at the time that Singh provide a written report regarding the incident and that this had never been submitted. Two days after the interview with Singh, correspondence between the general and the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was leaked.

This criticised the standard of India's defences and caused a further political row.

Singh retired as Chief of Army Staff on 31 May 2012 and was succeeded by General Bikram Singh. After retirement, Singh showed support for Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement. Amid speculations, Singh has ruled out any chances of joining the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). TRANS ASIA NEWS

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