Lt-Gen A K Choudhary, the former Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), assumed the top operational office of the Army on January 9, 2012, and barely a week later got embroiled in one of the lowest points in civil-military relations when a spooked government asked him to explain the movement of two Army units near the national capital on a day the then Army chief Gen V K Singh had moved court on his date-of-birth controversy. Now in Patna days after his retirement, he breaks his silence on the troop movements, the level of distrust between the government and the Army and the “corrective steps” taken.
On his selection as the DGMO:
A DGMO is not selected by the (Army) chief based on his personal friendship or relationships. It is based purely on professional grounds and the officer is expected to work 24 hours a day and give the correct professional advice. I was pained by the perception some had that as the DGMO I was there being close to some A, B or C. It was for purely professional reasons.
On how much the DGMO should be aware of such troop movements:
First of all, I had joined on January 9, 2012, as the DGMO. The training movement of the troops is a prerogative of the commanders only. They need not and they do not keep the MO (Military Operations directorate) in the loop. It’s not required. They do it when there is an operation close to the border, where we have to inform the other nation. There we get an approval for them. Officially, for any other kind of movement , there is no intimation required to be given to the DGMO.
On the troop movement that caused panic in the government on January 15-16, 2012:
On the evening of January 15, 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 (Lt-Gen Ashok Singh), the Corps Commander (1 Corps) concerned (mechanised columns of the Hisar-based armoured unit), who said there was nothing and that they were just doing an exercise that had been discussed in the past. Maybe he had discussed this with the chief and other senior officers. From what I gathered, they were checking out the time it takes to move these troops. (Ashok Singh now heads the southern command.)
On why the troops were moving towards Delhi:
I asked 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. I told them that after halting, they should re-route the convoy and instead of getting closer they should move out.
Anyway, their original route was to do a turn around at Bahadurgarh. You understand that it becomes difficult for heavier vehicles (like tracked Armoured Personnel Carriers) moving in their transporters.
In peace time, they only move at night, they have CMP (Corps of Military Police) escorts in front and rear, they have to look for “turning points”. At times, they may have to go 10-15 km to even find a place to turn around. So, they took some route that they had to turn from that was near the capital. It was not in the route. Under no circumstance, they were going to enter Delhi.
On his January 16 meeting with the defence secretary:
The next night (January 16), at around 11pm, I got a call to come to office. The defence secretary (Shashi Kant Sharma, who is now the Comptroller and Auditor General) had called me. I first informed the Army chief 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 is 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 then asked about the para movement (para commando unit 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 told them to carry out no further movement and asked them to go back in smaller groups. 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. But when I explained to them, I think they understood perfectly.
On whether he was asked by the government for an explanation:
Yes, a formal report on the matter was sent the next day. In that report, we clarified all issues. We put it in writing that we (the military operations directorate) are not supposed to know about such training exercises. We are informed after the exercises go beyond a certain level.
On what the fallout of the events has been:
Now a system has been put in place that if there is any movement you have to inform the defence ministry. Some time after this, they wrote a letter saying that if there are any movements that take place around Delhi, you have to inform us.
On troop movements being planned around the same time as then Army chief Gen V K Singh approaching the Supreme Court over his date-of-birth issue:
They (the Army) probably should have avoided (the movements), if they knew about the court date. But this was an exercise that was planned a few days earlier and it was not known to anyone that he (Gen V K Singh) was going to go to court on that particular date. Certainly not to people lower in the command.
I think the (defence) ministry and the IB (Intelligence Bureau) got excited and made their impression as the last five to six months things had gone to a level where there had been a 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 (court) dates or had he thought on these lines, he could have stopped it.
But I don’t think he thought on those lines. These instructions are issued at least 72 hours or before in peacetime. It would have taken three to four days of planning. They were not moving to Delhi, that is certain, even in their plans.
Even the para guys were only going to the artillery unit in Gurgaon, though on paper, they were to go to Hindon. Delhi was never there in any of the plans.
Armoured (units) was a totally different exercise and was not connected to the para movements. They (armoured units) were supposed to go to a bigger exercise later. Prior to that, they were having this internal exercise to see how fast they could mobilise, especially to the western borders. The time to take on road, the worthiness of the roads, the condition of the vehicles etc. There was no other intention and there were no chances either.