Coup spectre: Indian army movement spooked New Delhi

Published: April 5, 2012
Newspaper says the movement was without govt’s consent, ministry insists it was routine. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Newspaper says the movement was without govt’s consent, ministry insists it was routine. PHOTO: AFP/FILE


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.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Yash
    Apr 5, 2012 - 12:20PM

    just today the army general called these reports “absolutely stupid”…..thats it….topic ends…ministry denies, army general denies, govt denies, people deny… sometimes acts very irresponsibly


  • Hassan
    Apr 5, 2012 - 3:31PM

    @Yash: In 1999, just before Nawaz was deposed by Musharraf – there were similar news in the media where Army was denying such reports and so was the Government. All this is very familiar for Pakistanis, something definitely happened – up to you if you wish to believe nothing happened – and keep on dreaming about the largest democracy in which your politicians are ripping you off!


    Apr 5, 2012 - 4:13PM

    It will be wise and appropriate to dump this issue at this moment in the larger interest of the People, Government & the Army. But at the same time Government needs to take a lesson from this happening. From now on wards , the Government and Intelligent Agencies need to be more alert and vigilant.


  • viv
    Apr 5, 2012 - 4:56PM

    @Hassan :Do not see events in India through Pakistani prism.Your comments are full of jealousy and hatred.We are not dreaming democracy but enjoying it for last 65 years so take cre of your own.


  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Apr 5, 2012 - 5:15PM

    Even under the worst assumptions it’s impractical, infeasible and impossible to raise a millitary coup in a country like India which has 22 official languages, around 200 unofficial languages and thousands of dialects.

    But then again, who am I to squish your dreams and aspirations?


  • usmanx
    Apr 5, 2012 - 9:57PM

    I have to say I admire this about the Indian setup. Their people are very protective of their democracy. This is a testament to both their government, military, civilians and press.

    On the flip side, we celebrate coups. What a nation we are! :)


  • usmanx
    Apr 5, 2012 - 10:59PM

    Hassan, learn to pay respects to qualities of even a bitter foe. Would I like to live in a democracy that elects people like modi? no. is their things pakistan can learn from india such as miltiary/governmen relations? yes.


  • Nithin
    Apr 6, 2012 - 2:22AM

    If there is a chance for a military coup,I appreciate it..because we are really fed up with our corrupt politicians & Govt servents..


  • gp65
    Apr 6, 2012 - 3:47AM

    “The report highlights deep rifts and a tension in recent months between the world’s second largest standing army and the government”.

    Unlike Pakistan, in India the army is part of the executive branch i.e. the government. Os it is simply not possible to have rifts between army and the government. There can be differences between different individuals in government but no-one in India thinks a coup is a possibility. It has not happened even once in 65 years and Indians will not tolerate it.


  • The Witness
    Apr 7, 2012 - 1:15PM

    Who says it is not possible to have a military coup in India ? We in Delhi know well that anyone who can capture and occupy an area of 25 sq. kms. in the center of New Delhi would make the whole country come to its knees – including all its democracy-loving civilians. And those who have no idea how an army operates and behaves as a force to implement a coup on civilians would be in for a surprise if and when such a thing happens in India. If a spirited lathi-charge and a few tear-gas shells from the police can manage to control quite large and unruly crowds in places like Delhi or Kolkata, imagine what can a well-armed and trained fighting force like the army can do if it decides to enforce its absolute power on the civilians in a systematic manner. So, if it comes to that, India is no different from Pakistan. Only that you need to have a general like Zia-ul-Haq to pull it off.


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