A national newspaper informs us that the movement of two army units in January towards Delhi sent alarm bells ringing at Raisina Hill.
It seems like dramatic stuff, but besides dismissing the alarmist report, it is useful to briefly look at our military history to put the "troop movement" in context. When a para brigade from Agra was dispatched to the Maldives in 1988 to quell the coup there, there was unacceptable delay in its move. The brigade commander barely managed to retain his job. Again, during Operation Parakram in 2001-02, subsequent to the terrorist attack on Parliament, there was delay in mobilisation of troops.
Since then greater stress has been laid on speedy mobilisation. Consequently, many units periodically mobilise under varying conditions.
In this particular instance in January, mobilisation was being practised under foggy conditions which considerably slow down movement of convoys.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) was not informed of the move of the para unit, so there was added reason for suspicion, it's been claimed. However, since the para unit was not going into IAF's Hindon airfield or embark the C-130J planes, the need to inform the IAF was not necessary.
But this bit did add grist for the rumour mill. Together, these two units comprised not more than 1,000 men. Nearly 30,000 troops are stationed in Delhi cantonment and an equally large number come to the capital during the Army Day and Republic Day parades. There was, therefore, no reason to get paranoid on discovering an additional thousand soldiers 'marching' towards Delhi.
It would appear that there is deep-seated suspicion of the military, harboured by the politico-bureaucratic combine. Intelligence agencies too must be providing periodic inputs on such, otherwise, inconsequential, military movements!
Members of Parliament summoned the defence secretary and the vice-chief of the Army staff to explain the movement of troops towards the capital without notifying the ministry of defence. Replies of these two senior officials failed to allay fears of the members and at least two from the parliamentary standing committee on defence demanded that the Army chief be summoned before the panel.
While defence minister AK Antony denied the report that the movement of army personnel towards the capital on the intervening night of January 16-17 was a breach of protocol, the Prime Minister observed that this report was "alarmist" and should not be taken at face value. The man at the centre of the storm, Army chief General VK Singh, has himself termed the report as "absurd". Yet none of them have denied the troop movement.
Ajit Doval, former Intelligence Bureau director, has said that the agency is mandated to counter coups and "there are government instructions regarding troop movements near Delhi".
The newspaper report also told us "lookouts" were activated, columns identified and tracked and contingency plans to delay their progress to Delhi put in place.
The larger issue here is the suspicion that persists from the days of the first Prime Minister that the Indian army could and may stage a military coup and to that end contingency plans have been worked out.
Why else should there be a protocol for the military to inform the ministry of defence on routine movement of troops towards the National Capital Region, systems of instituting checks to keep an eye on key formations and their commanders, particularly those in the southwestern region, and posting of 'lookouts' and plans to delay the columns.
Putting barricades to delay army columns, in the event of a real coup, would be like throwing a banana peel to stop a road roller, and the defence secretary (and others) instead of summoning the director of military operations should rather be looking for a place to hide!
Fortunately, the Indian military is completely apolitical with no ambitions other than to do its duty for the country in the best traditions of soldiering.
Any one who harbours the fear of a military takeover in India needs early psychiatric help and a
thorough check-up by a neurosurgeon. Keeping alive this fear and constantly sowing the seeds of suspicion in the minds of the political class, against the military, suits the bureaucracy and is one way to stifle the military.
Such baseless stories do create suspicion and disaffection in the minds of the public against the military, which can create a different set of dangers.
The unflinching loyalty of the military apart, no military coup is possible in a country of India's size where there would be no public support for such an act. It could be argued that the public is fed up with the all-pervasive and soul-destroying corruption along with the uncaring and inefficient government functioning.
To this if socio-economic churning and people's rising (and unfulfilled) expectations are added, according to this theory, a revolution could be in the making - of which the military could take advantage.
But the truth is much less dramatic: Indians have come to accept a certain level of corruption, crime and misgovernance, and that does not stop them from participating in electoral democracy.
The Indian military is patriotic and inexorably loyal to the Constitution. So harbouring any suspicion of its loyalty and intentions is completely unjustified and reflective of a biased and mischievous mind.
A country aspiring to be a great economic and military power, exert its influence in the region and globally and draw large investments from abroad cannot portray itself as living under the constant fear of a military coup.
India is no banana republic where a military coup can manifest itself any time. The politico-bureaucratic mind needs to disabuse itself of the fear of a military coup and instead focus on strengthening the national security set-up.
The views expressed by the writer are personal