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Rediff.com  » News » Were PM, Antony out of sync over Jan 2012 troops movement?

Were PM, Antony out of sync over Jan 2012 troops movement?

February 21, 2014 15:13 IST

Was the defence minister kept in the dark with the PMO directly dealing with the then defence secretary in the matter of General V K Singh's birth date?

Was the trust deficit between the government and the then army chief so wide that instead of communicating directly with General Singh and the defence minister, the PMO and other arms of the government were depending on half-baked inputs from the Intelligence Bureau?

What happened that night in January 2012 when the movement of two Indian Army units towards Delhi spooked the political leadership?

Almost two years after a sensational report by the Indian Express claimed that the United Progressive Alliance government was 'spooked' by the movement of two army units towards the national capital, amidst its standoff with then army chief General Vijay Kumar Singh, the issue has resurfaced, much to the government's discomfort.

And once again it is an interview to the Indian Express granted by Lieutenant General Ashok Kumar Choudhary (retd), then the Director General Military Operations, that has stirred the pot.

At one level, the newspaper can justifiably claim that the government was indeed spooked as it had reported since then defence secretary Shashikant Sharma (now the Comptroller and Auditor General) had summoned the DGMO at an unusual hour to ask for an explanation about the movement of a mechanised column and a paratrooper unit.

General Choudhary quotes the former defence secretary as saying that he had just come back from the 'highest seat of power and they were worried.'

The question that remains unanswered in the latest interview is: Who is the highest seat of power? The prime minister? Sonia Gandhi? Or Defence Minister A K Antony? And what input had they received?

Who provided the inputs that alarmed the highest seat of power in the land? The Intelligence Bureau? If so, what were the inputs?

At another level, the former DGMO's assertion that the movement of troops was not unusual and was planned well in advance vindicates the then army chief's stand that there was no conspiracy hatched by him linked to his 'birth date issue' and that certain forces were out to malign the Indian Army by attacking him.

In subsequent television interviews, General Choudhary has stuck to his assertion that Indian Army troops carry out exercises almost on a daily basis and these movements were nothing out of the ordinary.

What is, however, intriguing is Defence Minister A K Antony's statement outside Parliament on February 21, 2014, saying he has no reason to change the stand taken by the government in Parliament in February 2012, that the 'movement had not spooked the government' and the government was convinced that it was a routine exercise.

In the context of General Choudhary's revelation that the then defence secretary asked for a midnight explanation from the DGMO, the question is: Was the defence minister kept in the dark with the Prime Minister's Office directly dealing with the defence secretary in the matter of General V K Singh's birth date?

Was the trust deficit between the government and the then army chief so wide that instead of communicating directly with the army chief and the defence minister, the PMO and other arms of the government were depending on half-baked inputs from the Intelligence Bureau?

And if the alarm was real, why did the government deny the fact in February 2012?

There are no clear answers forthcoming, but General Choudhary's interview has reignited the debate about the civil-military relationship in India.

Rediff.com reported on the troop movement first!

Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, right, with Defence Minister A K Antony. Photograph: Press Information Bureau.

A Correspondent in New Delhi