TIMES NEWS NETWORK
New Delhi: With the government admitting that “mischief ” by an insider was responsible for the scare over a routine movement of two Army units, the demand for a probe into the matter is gathering momentum amid indications that Army headquarters may itself seek an inquiry.
The issue figured in the meeting of Parliament’s standing committee on defence on Monday. Asaduddin Owaissi of UPA component MIM demanded a probe to get to the bottom of the manner in which a normal military exercise on the night of January 16 was portrayed as a sinister development. TOI had reported on April 5 that the alarm may have been raised by insiders ranged against the Army chief in a bitter factional feud.
Owaisi made the pitch to defence secretary Shashikant Sharma who had to appear before the panel for the second time to clear the air over the way sections of the government cranked up a routine military movement into an extraordinary and dangerous maneuver.
Owaisi’s demand coincided with a similar stand by the BJP. “What has the government done about the mischief makers?” asked party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar. The defence secretary repeated to the House panel the government’s stand: The suggestion that Army units in the exercise were actually flexing their muscle was based on “wrong inference” drawn from “conjectures”.
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Presenting a sobering account of long-term as well as immediate challenges, senior IAF and Army brass told a parliamentary committee that while India’s window to catch up with China’s defence modernization thrust could close by 2017 or earlier, stocks of certain tank munitions are down to four days of reserves. Meanwhile, in an extraordinary step, the committee decided to call the three service chiefs to give an account of the state of preparedness of the forces. P 10 ‘MoD nod not mandatory for routine troop movement’
New Delhi: Defence secretary Shashikant Sharma rejected the premise of panic in the government that the concerned Army units did not inform the defence ministry in violation of protocol. Sharma said there was no procedure requiring units to inform MoD of routine movements.
The day also saw retired Army and Navy chiefs, Gen V P Malik and Admiral Arun Prakash, respectively, asking for a probe.
On Sunday, minister of state for defence Pallam Raju confirmed the widespread suspicion in the top echelons of the government that it was somebody, seen as reliable, who misrepresented an exercise by a mere two units consisting of a few hundreds of soldiers as a potentially dangerous situation.
The subsequent alert saw police being directed to slow down the “advancing” columns. Although CRPF sources have denied that their elite COBRA units were deployed and a ‘lookout’ was mounted at railway stations, many in the government consider it frightening that insiders could precipitate such a situation.
Eventually, it took an intervention by defence minister A K Antony to quell the panic. Antony is learnt to have dismissed the alert sign hoisted by the authorities as misplaced.
Significantly, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi parried a question on Raju’s statement in a TV interview.
Sections in the government seem to have come around to suspect that the artificial scare may have been scripted to prejudice the government against the Army chief, General V K Singh As it happened, January 16 was also the very day when General Singh had, in an unprecedented development, moved the Supreme Court to challenge defence ministry’s rejection of his claim for the revision of his date of birth.
Several senior military officers are of the belief that the government should promptly fix responsibility and take action against those who created the unnecessary scare over routine military movements. The “apolitical and disciplined” Army has been “insulted”, either because of ignorance or deliberate design, they contend.