NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Two Indian army units that moved towards New Delhi on a January night without notifying the government raised alarm in the capital, the Indian Express newspaper reported on Wednesday, but the Defense Ministry and army quickly denied the report.
The infantry unit of the 33rd Armored Division based 150 km (90 miles) from Delhi and a unit of the airborne 50 Para brigade based in Agra to the south reached the outskirts of Delhi before being ordered back, the newspaper said.
The army and Defense Ministry said the units were engaged in routine exercises to test mobility in fog and did not need to warn the government in advance. Ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar told Reuters it was not true the maneuvers had caused alarm.
Defense Minister A.K. Antony said the exercises were normal and he was fully confident the armed forces would not do anything to undermine India’s democracy.
“This is baseless. In the ministry, with the minister, there is no communication gap. There is no trust deficit. I have full faith in them. They are working together,” he told reporters after a ceremony to launch a nuclear submarine.
The troop movements happened at a time of friction between the army chief, General Vijay Kumar Singh, and the government. The newspaper said the accepted view is there was a breakdown in communication rather than a plot of any kind.
The military in India, the world’s largest democracy, has traditionally stayed out of politics and is not known for conspiring against governments in a region plagued by instability.
On the night in question, lookouts confirmed the two units were travelling towards New Delhi, the newspaper said.
Antony was informed and the government ordered police to check all vehicles on roads to Delhi as a way of slowing traffic. The Defense secretary, the ministry’s top civil servant, cut short a trip to Malaysia to handle the situation, the newspaper said.
The report highlights deep rifts and a tension in recent months between the world’s second largest standing army and the government.
On January 16, the day the exercises took place, army chief Singh took a case against the government to the Supreme Court in a row about whether he could serve another year before retiring. He later lost the case.
Last week, Singh said he was offered a $2.8 million bribe and accused the Defense minister of not acting on information about corruption in the forces. He also wrote a letter to the prime minister in March saying the army was not in proper shape to defend the country. The letter was leaked.
Reporting by Anurag Kotoky, Annie Banerji and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Robert Birsel