The Spooking of Raisina Hill


Such is the strong apolitical image and impeccable reputation of the Indian Army that even the thought of a military coup in the country seems ludicrous. So when Indian Express broke the story about two Army units closing in towards the capital on a dark, cold January night, it never suggested the C word. It tantalizingly left the obvious connotations to the active imagination of the readers. It hoped that the readers would leap to the same conclusion that the high and mighty in the government had when they had heard that a battalion each of Mechanized Infantry and Paratroopers were heading from opposite directions towards the capital.

It is difficult to say who was quicker to deny the implied connotations of the story – the government or the army. And they both did so independently and vehemently. The outrage expressed on talk shows by enraged veterans, red faced and whiskers quivering, lasted a couple of TRP rich evenings. And with the recent revelations by the then DGMO, recently retired, has sparked the debate afresh. The basic premise of the outraged veterans is that even the suggestion of such an eventuality casts a slur on the image and honour of the army, questioning it’s patriotism and respect for democracy. It seems they are either deliberately or mistakenly missing out the woods for the trees. The question here is not about the loyalty of the organization as a whole, but the atmosphere of extreme distrust that was prevailing largely due to the unprecedented acts of the incumbent Chief of Army Staff.

Attributing the troop movements to a plan to overthrow the government would be ridiculous to say the least. But passing off the sudden mobilization of paratroopers and an entire Mechanized Infantry battalion complete with 48 Infantry Combat Vehicles to the outskirts of the capital as a ‘routine training exercise’ would also be extremely naive. Mobilization exercise would make sense if taken along the route westwards, for induction into the operational area of the unit, not 180 degrees opposite towards the national capital. The reason given for this subsequently – that moving westwards was not possible since as per norms prior intimation needs to be given to Pakistan – seems rather lame. Units move towards the field firing ranges located in that direction all year around. Besides, the options of moving north towards Kaithal or south towards Churu were also available (see map below).

So, if it was not a possible coup attempt, nor a very routine training move, what was the reason behind the controversial mobilization? The following series of tweets from Lt Gen CS Panag, a straight shooting and highly respected former Mechanized Infantry officer himself, just about sums it up:-

So what happened on that night was probably an attempt at psychological warfare, a ‘feint’ to cause confusion in the minds of the ‘enemy’. Possible aim was to pressurize and embarrass the government and forestall any thoughts of summarily dismissing the chief like Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat had been. The beauty of the plan was that it could be indignantly passed off as a routine training move – just like it was – irrespective of the fact that it was highly unusual and unprecedented. And the government would be too embarrassed to admit to being apprehensive about a coup – as it was. Especially a weak government which was already reeling under multiple corruption scams and was quite visibly short of public support and sympathy.

While the absolute truth may never come out – at least not in the foreseeable future – there are no doubts that the incident has done irreparable damage to the already precarious civil-military relations. It has done a lot to fuel the dying fires of the scare of a military takeover that prevailed amongst political leaders in the years immediately after independence, a strong distrust which was largely responsible for the gradual but substantial erosion in the status and privileges of the armed forces.

Whatever may be the emotional assertions of the veterans on television channels against the media and the government – we have only the ambition and actions of one man to blame for this – a man who’s sacred charge was to be the highest custodian of the interests of the organization.

3 thoughts on “The Spooking of Raisina Hill

  1. Do not agree with the line of thought. A coup by Indian Army – Not plausible. It also could not have been a wild attempt at creating a scare as hinted at in the article. Reasons:-

    1. Entry through multiple forms and formats and the schisms that they carry will not allow formation of mass opinion leading to total compliance for such an endeavor to succeed. Diversity is the biggest no go for a coup.

    2. Deep rooted professional rivalries that manifest strongly as personal differences will always provide a counter to such an attempt.

    3. Indian Army has grown big – big enough to be managed effectively and efficiently. The fact is that there has been no substantial benefit to the lower level or mid level officer cadre for what ever changes that have occurred since independence (as a matter of fact there has been steady erosion and deterioration only) has lead to a mindset (though subtle but definitely widely prevalent) in those affected that the situation has arisen due to self -serving superiors and their absolute neglect of the aspirations of their sub-ordinates. In short today there is no military leader today who enthuses so much confidence or shares a rapport at such a large scale with his officers and men that he can think of whipping up a coup. He may bolt the round in the chamber under garb of training but I am sure he wont have the courage to pull the trigger, for he too knows it will misfire and the political class and the bureaucracy is not oblivious to the this fact. They have scripted it beautifully. Today your soldier also knows that it is the bureaucrat who decides on what he will be paid.

    4. Assuming that a military leader in India garners the support of some young hot blooded officers and succeeds in staging a coup, it will not last long. The scenario akin to factionalism will appear very soon exposing us to either a revolt or external aggression.

    5. It is my belief that the one organization that our intelligence agencies have infiltrated thoroughly are the armed forces. The nation will know of the coup or any attempt at it even before you can set your first soldier marching on the road to New Delhi.

    6. A military coup must bring tangible benefits to the people of the country who form a large base of this country. Though it may initially bring about a euphoria in the public that the much hated political class and the bureaucracy have been punished if it is not followed up with immediate change in the manner our systems function it will lead to bigger troubles at hand. A military coup is not a solution in itself and unless it does not have a follow up action it will turn out to be a disaster. This I am sure even the military leadership of this country understands – that it has to have a minimum credible support of the civil society to stage a coup, which it does not enjoy today.

    The bottom line is if Stalwarts like Carriappa, Thimayya or Manekshaw, leaders who not only enjoyed unquestioned and unparalleled loyalty and respect not only within the services but from the civil society too did not do it no military leader can even imagine to do it today , let alone toying with the idea.

  2. While I agree that a coup is not possible, playing around with the minds of the people in the government at minimal cost is, as was done. The beauty was the deniability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *