Thanks to Indian Express’ full page banner headline on a ‘spooked Raisina Hill’, we Indians had a chance to deliberate on a rather unusual and unexpected issue- the possibility of a military coup in India! The day has gone by and everything has been deftly pushed under the heavy red carpet, the kind of which is commonly used in the armed forces.
First we attacked the news paper and the reporter. We even accused them of high treason! Then we reaffirmed our trust in the exalted armed forces. We condemned baseless reporting and called upon our nation to forget the alarmist reports as everything that needs to be clarified have already been clarified.
But emotional appeals/outbursts apart, why didn’t Army or Government come out with rational answers to the questions or allegation (howsoever baseless they may be) raised in the report that appeared in an otherwise respected national daily? Also, if indeed these alleged facts were baseless or cooked up, why there is no action initiated against the wrongdoers or at least an inquiry to find out their motives and personalities behind it? (Such a full page banner headline, on a incident that took place two and half months before, itself is a ground for doubting the intentions of the report!)
Let us see some of the questions on facts that remain to be answered:
- Was intelligence reports received on unusual movements of Army units, on January 16th? Why was it considered as ‘unusual’?
- Were lookouts activated as a result of these intelligence reports?
- Was a terror alert issued to Delhi Police on that night was it acted upon?
- Was there a late night meeting between Defence Secretary and DGMO?
- Was any instruction issued to send back both the units immediately? Who ordered and on what grounds?
- Is there protocol that requires military movements in NCR regions be intimated to MoD? If yes, who breached the protocol? Has any accountability been fixed yet?
- Was Air Force intimated about the movement of para troopers towards their base in Hindon?
- How did the para troopers who were supposed to reach Hindon ended up near Palam? Was there an error in the movement and what caused it?
- Can any Army Commander decide to take his troops anywhere in the country on training, as if being suggested by many retired generals on TV? Is there any authority who is supposed to coordinate such movements?
These are questions of fact that can be clarified through yes or no answers rather than emotional calls about exalted positions and highest trust etc. It would set any doubts in the minds of any citizens who may have felt concerned about the news.
I have had the fortune to be a part of India’s armed forces for close to two decades and I am as proud of its history as anyone else is. But my pride in India’s democracy (with all its faults) and the conviction in its primacy do not allow me to completely ignore any news that could even have remotest potential to affect it in any manner.
Without doubting the integrity and intentions of India’s armed forces and without expressing any judgement on the Indian Express story, let me express some concerns here:
- Apparently two commanders decided to move their units to NCR region on same night. What happens, hypothetically 5 or 10 commanders decide to conduct similar movements on a single night? If it is possible for two, is it also possible for 10? How chaotic the Delhi or at least its traffic would become? Shouldn’t Headquarters have enough coordination to avoid such situation?
- If a news paper comes out with ‘baseless’ stories, is it not the responsibility of the Government to inquire into the circumstances, motives etc and fix responsibility? Would a blanket denial based on emotions undo the damage?
- Even if we assume that our armed forces are incapable of any such misadventure, should the state completely take it for granted or should it undertake precautionary measures? In case of a coup, will there be full page prior warnings or clandestine movements of troops? Do we have protocols and SOPs to prevent any such adventurism by a rogue commander, if he is free to move his troops anywhere including national capital, anytime, without any need to obtain clearances (as is being suggested by many)?
Pointing out faults and seeking answers is not something to be condemned outright. If the intentions are doubtful, let there be enquiries and guilty be punished. We have a journalist from Rediff.com (Ms Sheet Bhatt, @sheela 2010) tweeting that she was alerted about a storyline “that the Home ministry guys want to plant, is that how Gen. Singh wanted to stage the coup against UPA government but... the top brass in the Army is not ready to join Gen. Singh” as far as two months back! These are serious allegations and must be dealt with all the seriousness. Let us not push unpleasant truths under the carpets of emotions!
Finally, how have we come to the stage that when such a news paper report comes out we see more support to armed forces than concerns about our democratic systems?! While going through the reactions to the report, I get a feeling that lot of vocal Indians would prefer a military rule to the present governance system!
While accepting all the short comings of our systems, I would like to point out the struggles being undertaken by people in countries under military rule to come out of it and have democracy. You may like or dislike an elected government. But let not that like or dislike colour your views on democracy itself. The grass is always greener on the other side!
Leaders are different from democracy. Let us not compromise democracy for the lack of quality in leaders; for we can (relatively speaking) easily change the leaders but not the system!
Let us get our priorities right. Democracy is precious; much more than honour of the armed forces, meant to protect the very democracy.