LT-Gen A K Choudhary, who was Director General of Military Operations in January 2012, has confirmed that there was alarm at the highest levels of the UPA government in mid-January 2012 over the movement of two Army units near New Delhi. So much so that then defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma summoned him shortly before midnight and told him that he “had just come back from the highest seat of power and that they are worried”.
Choudhary says he was told to immediately send the troops back and file a report to the government which he did the very next day.
This confirmation comes after almost two years of denial by both the government and the Army of any such incident, which was first investigated and reported by The Indian Express on April 4, 2012.
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That report in The Indian Express was called “absolute rubbish” by Defence Minister A K Antony; the then chief, General V K Singh, speaking to The Hindu on April 7, 2012, called it “fables of a sick mind” and claimed that “no clarification was sought by the government”.
Speaking to The Indian Express in Patna Thursday, three weeks after his retirement as Bengal Area Commander, Choudhary said that the confusion was created due to increasing distrust “between two individuals” and “immaturity” on both sides. And that the entire situation could have been avoided if there was proper communication. “I did feel bad because I am in touch with the defence ministry on an hourly basis and, still, they didn’t raise this with me earlier,” he said.
Choudhary admitted that the troop movements “could have been avoided” if it was known that V K Singh was approaching the Supreme Court on the matter of his date of birth against the government on the same day — January 16, 2012.
Choudhary has confirmed (read his interview), that he was called in by then defence secretary to explain the movement of a mechanised infantry unit from Hisar and a paratroopers detachment from Agra late at night on the same day.
Choudhary has revealed that a day before his meeting with the defence secretary, he (Choudhary) had come to know about the movement of the Hisar unit near Delhi after a senior officer in charge of formations near the capital called him, alerting about concerns of intelligence agencies.
Choudhary said he had ordered this unit to halt and turn back a day before the defence secretary called him.
Describing his meeting with Sharma on January 16, the top officer said: “At around 11 pm, I got a call to come to office. The defence secretary had called me. I first informed the chief (V K Singh) and then went to meet the defence secretary. He (defence secretary) said he had just come back from the highest seat of power and that they are worried. He said bataiye kya ho raha hai. (Tell me what’s happening). I told him that this was an exercise and I have already told them to stop and take a different route. He said to me that they should be told to go back quickly. I said that they will go as per the drill as there is method to their movement and in any case they would have gone back after the exercise.
“He (Sharma) then asked about the para movement (para commando troops from Agra) also. I was initially not aware of it. They had been coming for training and going back. They used to come and go from that area in the past also. After the meeting, I also told them to carry out no further movement and asked them to go back in smaller groups.”
Choudhary recalled how he had discovered the movements of mechanised columns a day earlier. “On the evening of January 15 (a day before I was called by the Defence Secretary), I got a call at about 11-11.30 pm from one of the senior officers in charge of a formation looking after Delhi Area, inquiring about some troop movements. He must have been asked by some intelligence fellows. I told him I did not know, and said let me find out. I then asked the Corps Commander (1 Corps) concerned, who said there was nothing and that they were just doing an exercise that had been discussed in the past. May be, he had discussed this with the Chief and other senior officers. From what I gathered, they were checking out the time its takes to move these troops.”
According to the former DGMO, he asked the officer concerned about their proximity to Delhi. “I asked him about why they had come this close? He said that the route was like that only. Since some people said there are some problems, I asked them to halt there and told them that they should take a different route the next day. However, they said they could not stop there as the location had shops on both sides, so they will stop at a day harbour (a place where a military convoy halts during daytime) 15-20 km ahead. As a result, the convoy kept moving for 45 minutes more and then halted.”
Choudhary said that behind the confusion was the deepening trust deficit between the government and the Army. “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 —- two individuals. There was immaturity on both sides. Immaturity on the part of the commanders I don’t know, if he knew about the dates (court) or had he had thought on these lines, he could have stopped it. But I don’t think he thought on those lines.” he said.
On the lessons learnt, Choudhary said that the Army submitted a written report detailing the troop movements on January 17 and explained in detail that the troops were moving as part of a planned exercise. He further said that a few months down the line, instructions were passed that the government needs to be informed of all army movements near the national capital.