The coup that wasn’t

Woke this morning to startling news. The Indian Express was leading on a military coup attempt in January, some one said. A military coup, in India! I looked out the window: still the same Delhi. It was hard to imagine tanks on the streets.

Over on Twitter it was getting very heated. People were insulting each other, accusing each other of saying things they hadn’t. The Indian Express was denying it had said there was a coup attempt.

I got a copy of the paper. It was dramatic stuff, the front page cleared to make way for the story. “This is a story you would tell with extreme care and caution,” it began, and went on to tell of a foggy night in January when the government received intelligence reports that an army unit was suddenly and unexpectedly moving towards Delhi. While they were checking that, a second report came in that a separate unit of paratroopers was on its way to Delhi too.

And this was happening the same day that the army chief, who was locked in a fight with the government over military equipment, had gone to the Supreme Court to try to extend his term of office by a year. I had to look out the window again to make sure I was still in India, there seemed such a disconnect between what I was reading, and the country as I know it.

It’s hard to conceive of a military coup in India, it’s as extraordinary a thought as the tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue or the army storming Buckingham Palace. And yet, at the height of India’s triumphant emergence as a new economic power, here was one of its most respected newspapers strongly suggesting that something like an attempted coup had taken place.

True, the Express didn’t call it a coup. It did, though, give up its entire front page to a breathless account of unauthorised night-time military manouvres that were converging on Delhi, until they were sent back by a panicked government.

It did say the military’s explanations, that it was an exercise “to check its ability to make quick deployments of key units during fog” was “viewed with scepticism at the highest level”.

Something is clearly going on. The Express was busy backpeddalling today, saying it only reported on concerns over unauthorised manouvres. But the way it had played the story had already had its effects: international headlines saying “Indian government denies coup fears” — hardly likely to inspire confidence among foreign investors — and people questioning the motives of the military top brass.

Was it a newspaper that got too excited by the chance for a sensational story, and didn’t let the facts stand in the way? Or was some one stirring up mischief, briefing the Express with the story for their own ends? There are all sorts of rumours of lucrative defence deals hanging on who is in power, both in the government and in the top echelons of the army.

India’s annual defence budget is $40bn, but the army chief says the military is “woefully” underequipped, doesn’t have night-fighting capabilities, and doesn’t even have enough ammunition.

Worse, he has alleged he was offered a multi-million dollar bribe to buy substandard trucks.

Did something amiss happen in the fog on the night of January 16? Or is that what some one wants us to believe?


  1. […] The coup that wasn’t ( […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.