Former commander Lt Gen PN Hoon has said the Indian Army was involved in a plot to overthrow the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1987 that was aborted after he stopped the movement of crack commando troops.
In his just released book “The Untold Truth”, Hoon alleged then army chief Gen Krishnaswami Sundarji and his vice chief, Lt Gen SF Rodrigues, were involved in the plot at the behest of senior politicians who did not share cordial relations with Gandhi.
The book’s chapter 10 – Giani Zail Singh Vs. Rajiv Gandhi” – reveals Hoon was first tipped off by cabinet minister VC Shukla, who asked him about the possibility of an army action if President Giani Zail Singh – who shared a strained relationship with Gandhi – tried to dismiss the government.
Hoon writes he was in Delhi on official work when he learnt the Western Command had received an official letter from Army Headquarters seeking three para commando battalions. The battalions included the 9th and 10th Para Commando, under the Northern and Southern Commands, and the First-Para Commando, under the Western Command that Hoon led. The order said the three battalions were to be placed under Rodrigues, who was close to Sundarji.
Hoon writes he quickly alerted the Prime Minister and thwarted any escalation by ordering the area commander of Delhi, under the Western Command, not to move any troops without his permission.
“I immediately briefed Rajiv Gandhi, and showed him the letter sent by Army Headquarters moving these three para commando battalions to Delhi...I explained how dangerous this move could be for the democracy,” he writes.
Hoon concludes the chapter by indicating Zail Singh may have abandoned thoughts of any action against Gandhi because of fears it would lead to an army takeover.
“The president had said once that one of the reasons because of which he did not chose to dismiss Gandhi was that the successor may have been a weak person which could have led to a transfer of power from a democratically elected government to the armed forces,” the book states.
Rajiv Gandhi vs Others
Two chapters of Hoon’s book detail the tense ties Gandhi shared with Zail Singh, Sundarji and Arun Singh, the then minister of state for defence.
Zail Singh accused the Prime Minister of corruption and negligence at a farewell function hosted for him by then Punjab Governor Siddharth Shankar Ray in Chandigarh in 1987.
“Giani-ji blamed Rajiv for the prevalent corruption and negligence and said that Rajiv was unconcerned about the killings that had taken place in the country during the 1984 riots in Punjab,” the book states.
Chapter 9 reveals how Operations Brasstacks, conducted near the Pakistan border, was no military exercise but a provocative build up planned by Sundarji and Arun Singh without the knowledge of Gandhi, who also held the defence portfolio.
Hoons writes that after the exercise, he advised Gandhi to post Rodrigues to a position where he would not have troops under his command or have a say in their deployment.
That was not to be. Rodrigues went on to become army chief on Sundarji’s recommendation. He also served as the governor of Punjab during the UPA regime for six years from 2004.