The Congress on Sunday appeared divided on former union minister Manish Tewari’s remarks that The Indian Express’s report on the movement of troops in 2012 was “unfortunate… but true”. The official spokesperson of the party rejected Tewari’s statement and questioned his locus standi, but senior leader Mani Shankar Aiyar said it seemed “something” had indeed happened that January night.
Tewari, a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence when the report appeared on April 4, 2012, stood by his statement. He said he had nothing to add to, or subtract from, what he had said on Saturday. Tewari was in the Standing Committee until August 2012. He remained a member of the Consultative Committee on Defence until he became minister in October that year.
The Original story: The January night Raisina Hill was spooked
The then defence minister, A K Antony, chose to remain silent. When contacted by The Indian Express on Sunday, he said, “I am in Kerala. I have nothing to say.”
AICC spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the matter had been clarified by senior ministers of the UPA government in 2012, and “I am again clarifying that there is absolutely no truth in the allegation or insinuation or innuendo in respect to which we have heard again today.”
He said “some troops movements are a necessary, in-built, and an inevitable part of a defence mechanism, but to read into it all the other elements is completely wrong and misconceived.
“I am constrained to say the same thing about the supposed statement given by my valued colleague and I am constrained to say the same thing about what is reported in the press about that statement. And therefore, I wish to clarify that since my colleague was neither a member of the Cabinet Committee on Security nor of any of the relevant decision making bodies, it was inappropriate, unnecessary and completely wrong to suggest that there was truth in those allegations when made,” Singhvi said.
“I wish to reiterate that and I wish to request and advise on behalf of the Congress party that such remarks and observations in respect to which he is neither the authorised spokesperson of the party nor the spokesperson on foreign and defence affairs nor privy to any of the relevant committees and decision making groups should have been and should be in the future completely avoided,” he added.
At a book release function in Delhi on Saturday, Tewari had said, “…That time I used to serve in the Standing Committee on Defence and it is unfortunate but the story (The January night Raisina Hill was spooked: Two key Army units moved towards Delhi without notifying Govt) was true. Story was correct.” He subsequently told The Indian Express that Defence Ministry officials who had briefed the Standing Committee had “privately confirmed” to him “that the story ‘may just be true’”.
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On Sunday, Tewari said in Chandigarh, “Whatever I said yesterday (Saturday), I have nothing more to add or subtract to that.” He said he was unaware of the statements made by Singhvi.
“I am coming (here) straight from Ludhaina, I have not seen what anybody else has said, so therefore as I am concerned, may I just reiterate… that I have nothing more to add or subtract to what I said yesterday,” he said.
In a tweet, the former minister, however, took on the then Army Chief Gen V K Singh, who had been reported to have dismissed Tewari’s statement earlier in the day, saying it had come from a “person who has no work these days”, and that Tewari “should be asked to read my (Singh’s) book which reveals everything (on the issue)”.
“Why is Right Hon’ble MP from Ghaziabad getting so antsy of course I would love to read his book provided he promises to read mine — in offing!” Tewari tweeted.
While Tewari’s party rejected his Saturday’s statement, his senior colleague Mani Shankar Aiyar told The Indian Express on Sunday: “I don’t have any information which you do not have. But it seems something happened on that night which was against the Constitution and our democracy.”
Aiyar said “it is good that the issue has come up again… At least in this context, Singh should be expelled (from the Council of Ministers).”
The Left parties demanded a statement from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then Defence Minister Antony.
“A K Antony… should speak now. He should explain. The Prime Minister was Manmohan Singh. Now that the issue has once again acquired a political dimension, the people should be informed about the truth,” senior CPI leader D Raja said.
CPM Politburo member Brinda Karat said, “It is a serious matter. It is for Manish Tewari to explain what he is saying… to come out with full information… The truth has to come out.”
Senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Ashutosh demanded a probe. “Manish Tewari’s statement on troop movement during V K Singh’s time is important, can’t be brushed aside, should be enquired throughly,” he tweeted.
The Indian Express had reported that late in the night of January 16, 2012, the day the Gen V K Singh approached the Supreme Court on the issue of his date of birth, intelligence agencies had reported an unexpected (and non-notified) movement by a key military unit, from the Mechanised Infantry based in Hisar as a part of the 33 Armoured Division, in the direction of Delhi. A large element of the airborne 50 Para Brigade based at Agra was also observed moving towards Delhi around that time.
The then defence secretary, Shashi Kant Sharma, was asked to cut short his visit to Malaysia and return. He opened his office at 11 pm on January 16 and asked Lt General A K Choudhary, then Director General Military Operations (DGMO), to see him and explain what was going on. The DGMO was asked to return with full facts about the movement, and was told to send the units back immediately. Both the military formations were halted, and sent back within hours.
In February 2014, Lt Gen Choudhary confirmed the troop movement and the late-night meeting. In an interview to The Indian Express, he said that the Army should have avoided the movement around the same time as Gen Singh approached the Supreme Court, and that there was immaturity on both the side of the Army and the government.