Intelligence and Defence Ministry officials panicked the government into believing that the former Army chief, General V.K. Singh, was plotting against the government in January 2012, the then-Director-General of Military Operations Lt-General A.K. Chaudhury has said.
The fears were linked to an increasingly public confrontation between General Singh and the UPA government.
“I think the [Defence] Ministry and the IB [Intelligence Bureau] got excited and made their impression on the basis of the last five to six months when things had gone to a level where there had been distrust among people,” Lt.-General Chaudhury told The Indian Express.
Lt-General Chaudhury said the then Defence Secretary had told him he “had just come back from the highest seat of power and that they are worried.” The former DGMO, though, made it clear that the troop movements, which sparked off the concerns, were routine training exercises.
Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony, speaking to journalists on Tuesday, moved to scotch speculation the government had feared a coup. “I have said it [the troop movement] was a routine training programme,” he said. “There was nothing wrong in it.”
In an April 2012 deposition to Parliament’s standing committee, the then Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma — now the Comptroller and Auditor-General — had made clear it the troop movements did not require prior government clearance.
General Singh had said the coup fears were the outcome of a “sick mind.”
Though Lt-General Chaudhury offered no detail on how the panic had been generated, highly-placed government sources told The Hindu that concerns on troop movements were first shared by then Intelligence Bureau director Nehchal Sandhu early on the morning of January 16. The information related to separate exercises near New Delhi by the 50 Para regiment and Hisar-based armoured units commanded by I Corps.
Mr. Sandhu, the sources said, sought counsel from several key military commanders and senior functionaries, including Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra. The information, the sources said, was based on conversations with a senior officer serving at the Chandimandir-based Western Command.
The news, the sources said, made top ministers, including Mr. Antony and his then counterpart at Home, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, concerned. “There was some concern about demonstrations of support for General Singh by army rank-and-file,” one officer familiar with the events said, “so the reports were investigated. There was no panic or thought of a coup.”
Western Command — responsible for the security along the India-Pakistan border from Abohar-Fazilka to Jammu — had learned of the troop movements from the Jaipur-based South-western Command.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Standing Committee was told, was only informed of the night’s events at a routine morning meeting with National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon.
Mr. Sharma himself returned to New Delhi on the afternoon of January 16 from a business visit to Malaysia. MPs have been told that he rescheduled his journey on January 15 after learning that General Singh was preparing to move the Supreme Court.