Retired Lt Gen PN Hoon has made the fantastic claim that the Army had planned a coup against the Union Government in 1987. He provides unsubstantiated material in support. His remarks need to be taken with a load of salt and rebutted with vehemence
We now know of the Army coup in 1987 that, thanks to the then Western Army commander, Lt Gen PN Hoon, did not happen. This and other ‘state secrets’ were recently revealed by the 86-year-old General while releasing his book, The Untold Truth in Chandigarh. The good news for the General is that all personalities (except one), involved or in know of the skeletons, are dead. The one living, then Army Vice-Chief, Gen SF Rodrigues, has already contradicted Gen Hoon. I, as the ADC to the high-profile Punjab Governor, SS Ray, in 1987, had a ringside view of events.
Gen Hoon’s ludicrous claim has three problems: An Army coup is impossible in India; the octogenarian General forgot that he had made verbatim claims (on coup, exercise Brass-Tacks and Siachen) in his earlier book, Unmasking Secrets of Turbulence; and he suffers from delusions of grandeur which come alive in his writings. Instead of keeping quiet at such outlandish claims, Army Headquarters should retort forcefully as such claims may affect reforms in higher defence organisations now under the Government’s consideration.
Here are three reasons why, unlike Pakistan, an Army coup is impossible in India. First, unlike the Pakistan Army where homogeneity of troops (mostly from the Punjab Province from where most Army chiefs hail as well) helps them rally around their boss, India has a heterogeneous army.
Second, unlike the Indian Army, the Pakistan Army has deliberately not created the designation of Army commanders responsible for a war theatre. The nine Corps commanders of the Pakistan Army report directly to the chief. Though operationally undesirable, this arrangement is necessary for the chief to maintain a firm grip. An Army commander with three or four Corps commanders under him would become too powerful for the chief’s comfort.
Third, the Pakistan Army chief is not one amongst the equals but has unprecedented clout as compared to his Air Force and Navy counterparts. He is in an enviable position where he controls the entire spectrum of war. The nuclear weapons are under him and ballistic missiles, also under his command, are the preferred delivery vectors. The Army chief also controls irregular war elements through the Director General, Inter-Services-Intelligence.
The Indian Army chief is one of three Service chiefs with little possibility of the other two supporting him if he oversteps his authority. He is neither in the security policy-making loop nor does he control nuclear weapons. Having always been on the fringes of the Defence Ministry, the Indian Army chief has all the responsibility without authority, the latter resting with the powerful bureaucracy. Why would bureaucrats agree to serve the Army chief when they are already the bosses?
Yet, the General claims that his headquarters in July 1987 received a letter from Army Headquarters for three para-commando battalions — one under his command and the other two under the Northern and the Southern commands. Why would the Army Headquarters write to the Western command to release assets it does not hold? And who allowed him to approach and brief (as claimed) the Prime Minister and his Principal Secretary Gopi Arora, bypassing Army Headquarters and the Defence Ministry to inform them about the impending coup?
Moreover, according to him, at the farewell function for President Giani Zail Singh held in 1987 in the Punjab Raj Bhawan (where I was present and Gen Hoon was not invited), the outgoing President told Governor SS Ray of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s corruption and other alleged misdemeanours. Aware that Ray was close to Rajiv Gandhi, the Giani was too astute a politician to have done so.
One instance of Gen Hoon’s irrepressible urge to be identified close to authority (which probably causes him to hallucinate) deserves recall. When he was Western Army commander, his office in 1987 called me to fix his appointment for a courtesy call (which is normal) on the Governor. Being an impatient man not given to official-social interactions, Ray brusquely told me that he had nothing to do with an Army man (though he was good friends with Gen K Sundarji as his wife and Ms Sundarji were related). I conveyed this message politely to Gen Hoon’s office, which kept pleading. I finally requested the Secretary to the Governor (a senior IAS officer) to clinch a few minutes for the Army commander with the boss; they were indeed few.
On Exercise Brass-Tacks, Gen Hoon repeats what he wrote in 2000, that, “Brass-tacks was a plan to build up a situation for a fourth war with Pakistan”. He even claims that his troops were carrying live ammunition. This is not true.
Brass-tacks in the winter of 1986-87 was not a launch pad for war for three reasons: One, after Pakistan moved its southern strike reserves towards the north, the Indian Army, in panic, launched Operation Trident for build-up of ammunition and war stocks over two months. Two, it was during Operation Trident that the Indian Navy was brought into the picture. And three, the participation of the Indian Air Force during Brass-tacks was minimal.
Brass-tacks was a purely military exercise in which politics got mixed with military matters because of the flamboyant personalities of Rajiv Gandhi and Gen Sundarji, an ill-informed media on both sides, and the visit of top US official Caspar Weinberger to India and Pakistan in October 1986.
Gen Hoon’s exhortations on Siachen are most bizarre. Making no mention of his boss, the Northern Army commander, Lt Gen MML Chibber (he passed away a month ago), Gen Hoon as 15 Corps commander, takes full ownership of the planning and execution of the May 1984 Operation Meghdoot (Siachen conflict). He claims to have briefed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on how Leh would be threatened if Siachen glacier was not occupied. He also claims to have raised a brigade trained in “white shod operations” which in two to three years was to be expanded into “a strike corps for white shod operations”, a ski-expert offensive force.
His then boss, Gen Chibber confirmed to me that there were no such accretion plans. According to Gen Chibber, “Siachen does not have any strategic significance. The importance being talked about is all invention.” The Army had not planned to have a permanent presence on the glacier, as according to Gen Chibber, “In my experience, the Pakistanis were prone to transgressing the Line of Control. But once it was occupied by Indian troops, they usually went back to the original line.”
I wrote in my 2001 book, The Defence Makeover, that Operation Meghdoot was an ill-planned operation; instead of the glacier, the Indian Army should have occupied the nearby Dansum area at lower height (10,000 feet) which controlled routes to the glacier. Gen Hoon, in a newspaper article, had said that doing so would have violated the 1949 Karachi Agreement, as Dansum is east of the LoC extended northwards from map point NJ 9842. I shot back saying that, as point NJ 9842 was identified by an Indian survey team in August 1985, how did he know in May 1984 that the occupation of Dansum would violate the Karachi Agreement? Gen Chibber concurred with me. Gen Hoon did not respond.
(The writer is editor, FORCE newsmagazine. He can be reached at email@example.com)http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/the-general-and-his-delusions.html