The bizarre and sensational story by The India Express edition dated April 4, 2012 — The January night when Raisina Hills was spooked – is an article written by a man who wears many hats. Editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, TV host, political commentator and well-known public figure Shekhar Gupta at first seems to be an unlikely candidate for spinning a tall tale. But as one reads through the explosive article, it is difficult not to notice the many loopholes in this flimsy yarn about an attempted coup. Here is a detailed analysis of the article and its sensational claims.
The story begins with a statutory warning: “This is a story you would tell with extreme care and caution” and further claims that “it has also taken this team of The Indian Express reporters that long (11 weeks) to establish the story”.
But are these claims true? Rediff.com had in fact “broken” this very story several weeks ago. (Read: How India’s elite force was stumped). The article concentrated on how the fog could throw a spanner in the Indian Army’s operational plans and no rumor of a coup was reported. All the facts in the Express story have already been reported in this news article. Mr Gupta and his team have only added fresh masala to an old dish. And done a very bad job of it.
Even Army chief Gen V.K. Singh himself, in a candid interview to the Week on March 13, stated “even, when our unit, divisions or brigades does an exercise, some people will say that it was not an exercise. (They accuse) they wanted to do something else. Now you can make a story out of it”. The old soldier had predicted the media mischief weeks ago.
Shadow Wars: The Misinformed Coup
The Express story begins with the “unexpected (and non-notified) movement by a key military unit, from the mechanised infantry based in Hisar (Haryana) in the direction of the capital, 150 km away.”
Mr Gupta fails to educate his readers that such a small move does not need any permission from higher-ups ever since the days of Operation Parakram when the Indian Armoured forces were late in mobilisation for war. Ever since then, “mob practice” in the Army has become a common training activity so that such gross errors are never committed again.
Secondly, one Mechanized Infantry Battalion is roughly 600 men. According to Mr Gupta, movement of this mere handful of troops was hinting at seizure of power in Delhi. This could have been possible had Delhi been the capital of a remote banana republic. But in a country of over a billion citizens with an Army of over a million personnel (and the Navy and Air Force which Mr Gupta so conveniently chose to forget) what exactly are 600 soldiers of one battalion supposed to achieve? Man to man these poor souls will be outnumbered by the politicians in the two Houses of Parliament alone (Lok Sabha 545 and Rajya Sabha 245)! Add to this the khadi brigade the number of bureaucrats and one would realise that an attempted coup by the soldiers would be beaten back by a barrage of files, Gandhi topis, leather chappals and generous oodles of red tapes in apna Dilli!!
This was followed by “reports came in of yet another military movement “towards” Delhi. This unit was identified as a large element of the airborne 50 Para Brigade based at Agra.”
Again the wily journalist fails to tell the strange tale of the C-130. When the C-130J Hercules aircraft was inducted in the Indian armed forces it was done specifically for them as a heavy-duty troop lifting aircraft. But rather than stationing the aircraft in Agra, where the Paras are posted, they have been parked in the capital for over a year. The Paras have protested several times in the past with absolutely no result. So, if now they don’t move to Delhi for a practice, where their aircraft are, where else on earth are they supposed to go?
An exercise for the troops’ mobility is an in-house affair to check own drills and timings and thus the doubts raised by Mr Gupta over no information being given to IAF also does not hold good. That would have been a joint exercise done so very often by the Indian Armed Forces and is a whole other kind of military movement.
The Empire Strikes Back
The article alleges that the government was informed (by whom exactly, Mr Gupta does not care to tell us) and “immediately, the Centre put in motion an old contingency plan to delay just such a move. It issued a terror alert with instructions to police to carefully check all vehicles on the highways leading to Delhi. The objective was to slow down traffic“.
So, according to Mr Gupta, who was it that the grand Government of India with some of the world’s largest military and paramilitary forces under its direct command chose to check the advance? The notorious Delhi traffic and the cops patrolling the capital’s streets. They were to stop a mechanised infantry battalion with armored vehicles which can bulldose through any amount of cars and elite paratrooper special forces who are trained to jump from the skies into enemy territory. Come on, Mr Gupta, watch some movies and read some Tom Clancy novels, if nothing. You can do better than this.
The article further informs us that “Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma was asked to cut short his visit to Malaysia” and that he asked Lt Gen. A.K. Choudhary, Director General, Military Operations, to send the units back.
So an attempted coup is under way and the government finds time to have its Defence Secretary recalled? That too when both the Defence Minister and the MoS Defence were present and so were the three service chiefs. Raksha Bhavan was fully staffed and so were the Integrated Headquarters (IHQ) of the three services. Any order for a retreat could have come in from a hundred different sources in the political, bureaucratic and military hierarchy. What super powers were summoned by this lone babu recalled from a good time in Malaysia is anybody’s guess.
Mr Gupta sugarcoats his article in the final paragraphs by stating that “Nobody is using the ‘C’’word to imply anything other than ‘curious’. All else is considered an impossibility.”
However, the very allusion to this ‘C’ word is a dead giveaway of the malevolent intention of the article. He goes on further to contradict his disclaimer by stating that “however, as a consequence, that certain ‘important correctives’’have been put in place.” If curiosity was all that was at stake here Mr Gupta, pray elaborate on what was the need to put corrective measures? A foot in one’s mouth can prove to be quite painful indeed.
Military analysts and passionate anchormen alike have thrashed the story so often in the past few days that a visibly browbeaten Shekhar Gupta had to try real hard to justify his story in an interview with Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN the next day. Claims of journalistic values and an open-ended story did nothing to salvage the reputation of a fine newspaper and a once respected journalist. It was not a coup waged by an upright General under siege by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. It was an attempted coup by a seasoned journalist to gain a favorable nod from political bosses of India’s grand old party. Whispers of his loyalty to ‘Madamji’s‘ forces have done rounds ever since his one-sided coverage of the Anna phenomenon last year and have now only grown stronger. Alas, that he has forgotten the power of the public opinion.
The coup, Mr Gupta, has failed.