India rejects army movement sparked coup fears

Army tanks in Delhi - 26 January 2004
Image caption The military has been on a spending spree to update its weapons

The Indian government has dismissed a report that two key army units were moved towards the capital in January without the government being informed.

The unexpected movement on the night of 16 January created confusion in the government and sparked fears of a coup,the Indian Express reported.

"It's all bunkum," a spokesman in the prime minister's office told the BBC.

The defence ministry and the army too denied the report. They said the units' movements were a "routine exercise".

The report comes at a time when the government and the army have been involved in a series of disputes.

The Indian Express said the incident took place on the night of 16 January - the day army chief General VK Singh filed a case in the Supreme Court in an acrimonious row with the government over his age.

"Intelligence agencies reported an unexpected movement" by two key military units from Hisar (in Haryana state) and Agra (in Uttar Pradesh state) towards Delhi, the report said.

The movement caused considerable alarm and consternation in the government, it said.

It added that Defence Minister AK Antony was informed, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was woken up early on 17 January and Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma was called back from a trip to Malaysia.

In an effort to slow the units' movements, police were instructed to check all vehicles on the highways leading to Delhi.

The army told the newspaper that the units were engaged in a routine exercise to test their mobility in fog and did not need to warn the government in advance.

'Absolutely baseless'

"It's all bunkum as the army has denied it completely," the prime minister's spokesman Pankaj Pachauri told the BBC.

Prime Minister Singh later said the report was "alarmist" and "it should not be taken at face value".

The army chief's office is an "exalted" one and nothing should be done to lower its dignity, he added.

"Absolutely baseless" is how the defence minister described the report.

"This was a routine exercise. We have complete faith in the patriotism of the Indian armed forces. Don't question the patriotism of the army, the soldiers who are dying for the country. I'm proud of the Indian army, navy, air force and the coast guard," Mr Antony said at the commissioning ceremony for a new nuclear-powered submarine.

Several analysts said the report, coming at a time of tense relations between the government and the army, was "mischievous" and "should be thrown in the dustbin".

There have been several run-ins between the army chief and the government.

A letter Gen Singh wrote in March to Prime Minister Singh about the inadequate state of India's defences was leaked and the general recently alleged he was offered a large bribe from a defence industry lobbyist.

There was also a bitter dispute over the general's age, which he eventually dropped.

He went to the Supreme Court on 16 January to have his date of birth as recorded by the military - 10 May 1950 - changed to a year later so that it matched the date on his birth certificate and other documents.

He dropped the case after the court indicated it could rule against him because he had already accepted three promotions that were based on the earlier date.

Changing the date would have meant that he could retire in 2013 instead of this year.

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