It has been the largest democracy in the world for 65 years but that does not stop its civilians from getting goose bumps when the army moves unexpectedly, especially at a time of heightened civil-military tensions.
Two Indian army units that moved towards New Delhi on a January night without notifying the government raised alarms in the capital, the Indian Express newspaper reported on Wednesday, but the Indian defense ministry and the army quickly denied the report.
The infantry unit of the 33rd Armoured Division based 150 kilometres from Delhi and a unit of the airborne 50 Para brigade based in Agra to the south reached the outskirts of Delhi before being ordered back, the newspaper said.
The Indian army and defence ministry said the units were engaged in routine exercises to test mobility in fog and did not need to warn the government in advance. Ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar told Reuters it was not true the manoeuvres had caused alarm.
Defence Minister AK Antony said the exercises were normal and he was fully confident the armed forces would not do anything to undermine India’s democracy. “This is baseless. In the ministry, with the minister, there is no communication gap. There is no trust deficit. I have full faith in them. They are working together,” he told reporters after a ceremony to launch a nuclear submarine.
The troop movements happened at a time of friction between the army chief, General Vijay Kumar Singh, and the government.
The newspaper said the accepted view is there was a breakdown in communication rather than a plot of any kind.
The military in India, the world’s largest democracy, has traditionally stayed out of politics and is not known for conspiring against governments in a region plagued by instability. On the night in question, lookouts confirmed the two units were travelling towards New Delhi, the newspaper said. Antony was informed and the government ordered the police to check all vehicles on roads to Delhi as a way of slowing traffic.
The defence secretary, the ministry’s top civil servant, cut short a trip to Malaysia to handle the situation, the newspaper said. The report highlights deep rifts and a tension in recent months between the world’s second largest standing army and the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2012.