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Indian army movements spooked Indian govt

04 April, 2012

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NEW DEHLI: Two Indian army units that moved towards New Delhi on a January night without notifying the government raised an alarm in the Indian capital, the Indian Express newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing several unidentified sources.

The newspaper report said the infantry unit of the 33rd Armoured Division based 150 km (90 miles) from Delhi and a unit of the airbourne 50 Para brigade based in Agra to the south reached the outskirts of Delhi before being ordered back.

Indian PM Manmohan Singh described as "alarmist" the report. These are alarmist reports and should not be taken at face value, Singh told journalists at parliament.

The army told the newspaper the units were engaged in routine training exercises to test their mobility in fog and did not need to warn the government in advance. Defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar told Reuters it was not true the manoeuvres had caused alarm in the ministry.

The troop movements happened at a time of high friction between Army Chief Vijay Kumar Singh and the government. The newspaper said the accepted view is there was a breakdown in communication rather than a plot of any kind.

The military in India is not known for conspiring against the government in a region plagued by instability.

On the night in question, lookouts confirmed the two units were travelling towards Delhi, the report said.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony was informed and the government ordered police to check all vehicles on roads to Delhi as a way of slowing traffic. The defence secretary, the ministry's top civil servant, cut short a trip to Malaysia to handle the situation.

The report highlights the deep rifts and tense atmosphere in recent months between the world's second largest standing army and the government.

On January 16, the day the exercises took place, Singh took a case against the government to the Supreme Court in a row about whether he could serve another year before retiring. He later lost the case.

The army chief has since said he was offered a $2.8 million bribe and accused the defence minister of not acting on information about corruption in the forces. He also wrote a letter to the prime minister in March saying the army was not in proper shape to defend the country. The letter was leaked.

End.

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