New Delhi, April 4(IANS) 'Ridiculous,' 'irresponsible', 'contemptible' and 'mischief' were the common refrain of several former armed forces chiefs, senior officials and strategic analysts on the sensational media report here Wednesday suggesting that there was an army coup bid based on movement of two key battalions to the national capital in January.
First to call it 'ridiculous' was former army chief General Ved Prakash Malik, who headed the 1.13-million strong world's second largest standing army during the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan.
'I think it is a ridiculous report and that's all that I can say,' Malik told IANS over the phone from his Panchkula residence near Chandigarh.
The Indian Express, in a front page report Wednesday, said the Hisar-based Mechanised Infantry unit and elements from the airborne 50 Para Brigade in Agra moved towards the capital on the night of Jan 16, without following the standard operating procedure of informing the defence ministry in advance.
The report said since this happened around the time when Gen. Singh was waging a judicial battle against the government over his age row, it created unease and suspicion in Delhi. But the paper left it short of calling it a coup bid.
'It (the report) seems like somebody's mischief,' Malik said, adding that he 'can't keep guessing' who was playing the mischief or why it was being played.
He, however, believes that the troop movement was a routine training exercise and there was no need for notifying the defence ministry on such minor movement of units.
His sentiment was shared by a former defence secretary who is regarded quite well by the government for his experience and knowledge on matters of military.
'We have to see the basics of the report. The inferences drawn from it seem ridiculous. That's about it,' said the former bureaucrat who did not want to be identified.
'Knowledgeable people will never give credence to such kind of inferences. There is not a lot to be said on this. I do not see any logic in the report... for people in the armed forces would never even dream of making such an attempt,' he said.
The most stinging criticism of the report already dubbed 'alarmist' by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and 'baseless' by Defence Minister A.K. Antony came from former Indian Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash.
'It is a very irresponsible piece of journalism by a senior editor, especially at a juncture when the situation is tense and uncertain. I am wondering what purposes does this report serve. It is a very contemptible piece of writing,' Prakash told IANS over phone from Goa.
Asked what he thought of the army units moving towards Delhi without notice, Prakash said units have their own training schedules and there was no need to notify movements of such small units to anybody except the army formations and the headquarters.
'This is about the Indian Army and not the Pakistan Army, right? Should we be worrying about Indian Army units moving within the country?' he asked.
Former Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi though acknowledged that the media report was correct to the extent that there were indeed some army unit movements.
However, the report is 'incorrect as far as the nefarious purposes of the army units' movement is concerned', Tyagi told IANS here.
'My God, it is so ridiculous that I even hate to talk about it. These kind of army unit movements will continue as long as the nation has an army. But two and two do not make an eight. The army, the defence secretary, the defence minister and the prime minister say the report is bunkum. Who else needs to say that?' he said.
'By claiming that defence secretary (Shashi Kant Sharma) cut short his Malaysia visit and returned to Delhi due to these army units' movement is like claiming two and two is now sixteen,' he said.
Tyagi said he understands well that journalists see stories in everything. 'They got their story right as far as the movements of units are concerned, but this inference from those movements is surely in doubt,' he added.
Former Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) director C. Uday Bhaskar, a reputed strategic analyst, said he was 'intrigued, disappointed and very concerned' at the way the report had presented the army movement.
'The nuance and innuendoes, as though there was an attempted coup or there was any sort of an intimidation, is invalid,' Bhaskar said.
Noting that it was a matter of national security, the former navy officer said the report's technical details of just two battalions moving was 'just not backing' the suggestion of a coup attempt.
'Already, the civilian-military relations need a lot of repair. Indian military is the most professional and apolitical force in the world and the report doesn't do any good to the Indian media's credibility,' he said.
(N.C. Bipindra can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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