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India govt, army deny 'coup fear' report

April 04, 2012

(FILES) This file picture taken on January 15, 2012, shows Indian soldiers displaying their combat skills in a demonstration during the Army Day parade in New Delhi.       — AFP PHOTO/SAJJAD HUSSAIN/FILES

NEW DELHI:India's government and the army categorically denied on Wednesday a front-page report by a newspaper detailing how troop movements towards the capital in January had “spooked” the cabinet.

The Indian Express claimed the army had not given notice about the movements, sparking alarm about a coup at a time when relations between the head of the 1.13-million-strong forces and the government were strained.

“These are alarmist reports and should not be taken at face value,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told journalists at parliament.

The newspaper said that the government had taken measures as a precaution on January 16-17, including asking lookouts to identify the troops involved and ordering police to slow traffic on the highways into the capital.

“Absolutely baseless,” Defence Minister A K Antony told reporters in response to the report, adding that “they (the army) will not do anything against Indian democracy. They are true patriots.”

He said the army movements were “usual, natural activities.” Indian Army spokesman Colonel Jagdeep Dahiya told AFP that the story was “baseless and incorrect.” Certain troops’ movements which have been reported were part of routine training as per standard operating procedures,” he said.

The Express cleared its front-page for the detailed report under a three-line headline stating: “The January night Raisina Hill (the government) was spooked: Two key Army units moved towardsDelhiwithout notifying Govt.” India’s army chief V.K. Singh has had a public falling out with his civilian bosses sparked by his bid to stay in office for an extra year.

In January, the same day as the manoeuvres detailed in the Express, he took his case to the Supreme Court, asking for his birth date registered in army records to be changed. He claimed the birth date had been wrongly recorded.

The army chief faces mandatory retirement this May at the age of 62.