Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and defence minister AK Antony on Wednesday denied the newspaper report that the movement of army personnel towards the Capital on the intervening night of January 16 and 17 was a breach of protocol.
“These are alarmist reports. They should not be taken at face value,” Singh said. Antony’s comment was: “Absolutely baseless.”
The Indian Express said an entire mechanised infantry unit, based in Haryana’s Hisar, and a section of the Agra-based 50 Para Brigade moved towards Delhi on the day army chief General VK Singh challenged the government on the issue of his date of birth in the Supreme Court.
Defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma reportedly told the parliamentary standing committee on defence that questioned him and army vice-chief Lt Gen SK Singh on Wednesday that the troop movement did not breach the army’s standard operating procedure.
Sharma told the panel the director general of military operations was aware of the movement, which was good enough. Former national security advisor Brajesh Mishra and former defence secretary Yogendra Narain told HT such drills are routinely conducted by the army without notifying the ministry.
Ajit Doval, former Intelligence Bureau director — the agency that is mandated to counter coups — said, “There are government instructions regarding troop movement near Delhi. It could be investigated whether there is any violation of the instructions, but there is absolutely no political import in this case.”
An army statement said: “Routine training at the formation level is carried out to check mobilisation according to standard operating procedure (SOP). Almost all army units carry out this procedure at regular intervals. Once effectiveness is checked, the troops are called back. In this case too, the troops were called back according to the SOP. In case of adverse weather conditions like fog, we need to test our mobilisation effectiveness.”
Defence sources said the army, after realising during Operation Parakram in 2001 that troops weren’t moving as fast as they should, increased its frequency of such drills.
Security experts familiar with counter-coup protocol told HT that “mechanised infantry and few hundred personnel” should not have triggered a coup alarm.
“There are around 30,000 personnel stationed in Delhi at any given time and coups are rarely carried out by mechanised infantry,” he pointed out.