Coup Clucks Claim

Here’s a ready primer for our intrepid media to make sure they ask the right questions next time a coup comes round.

WrittenBy:Prashant Sareen
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We now know what happened on the foggy night of January 16. Here is what happened on the morning of April 4, 2012 – a highly respected journalist reduced himself to a laughing stock.

Not one to chicken out, The Indian Express crack team captained by Shekhar Gupta insists on standing by a report that attempted to overplay the simmering tension between the army and civilian government. All this by using a story reported 22 days earlier by

Using the ‘C’ word and then saying the story never claimed a coup was imagined, is terribly disingenuous. It is clear as day that is exactly what was implied. What is not clear is just how such a thing was supposed to work out. So whether the coup was imagined by babus in the Ministry of Defence or by The Indian Express, we have something for both. Tips on what is and is definitely not possible in case of a coup or imagined coup, and questions to ask when imagining a coup or reporting on an imagined coup.

1. If a coup is underway it’s not a good idea for the Defence Secretary to summon the Director General of Military operations. The DGMO is the most powerful man in the Indian Army after the Chief. The DGMO might ask the Defense Secretary to frog march to his office if he wants to meet him.

2. The reconstruction of events on the night when “Raisina Hill was Spooked” spans a few hours – “Late on the night of January 16″ and the early hours of Jan 17. In a span of a few hours intelligence agencies reported the movement of a unit of the Mechanized Infantry. Questions worth asking for all future coup reporters:

–       To whom was the movement reported? Getting an answer to this is key since all civil intelligence agencies report to the Home Minister. Why was the Defence Secretary calling?

–       Was the Defence Minister in the loop? Was the Home Minister in the loop?

–       Since the Defence Secretary flew back to India from Malaysia immediately – was it on a chartered plane or scheduled flight?

–       Did the Home Minister order the Defence Secretary to return? Without informing the Defence Minister? If so, did the defence minister know or did not know? (This is at the heart of this “chain of events”. What we do know for sure is that the prime minister, predictably, slept through all of it.)

–       Is calling out the traffic police the standard operating procedure to counter a military force marching to Delhi to overthrow the government? Do these traffic cops ask for driving license, RC and insurance papers of the tanks/armored vehicles/ troop carriers speeding to Delhi? What is the chalaan amount charged if the force bulldozes through the police picket?

What we do know from this Martians-Have-Landed-style storytelling is the Indian Government’s plan for slowing down a coup attempt is pathetically sad. They call in the traffic police! Now that is a story. And these questions were not asked by a journalist who has probably questioned everyone and everything no matter how big or small.

We know from the Nira Radia case that journalists tend to take themselves too seriously. They have an inflated sense of self and will not back down. Even today, on April 9, The Indian Express front page story on MoS Defence’s interview starts with – “ADMITTING that “probably someone down the line (in the government) may have read too much” into the troop movement on the night…” the Indian Express pats itself on the back.

The government denials were being brushed off as predictable and not credible by the Indian Express. The same newspaper today uses an interview of the same government to show their story was credible since they “Admitted”.

In a game of chicken involving a coup claim no one’s clucking just yet.

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