Manish Tewari
Congress leader Manish Tewarisaid on Saturday, 9 January, that the April, 2012, The Indian Express story on troop movement towards Delhi was true.IANS

A fresh political row erupted over the weekend when Congress leader Manish Tewari on Saturday said a national daily's April 2012 story on "unexpected" advancement of troops towards Delhi was "true", and Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh, the then Army chief, rubbishing his claim and asking him to read his book.

"Insofar as that particular story you are referring to, that time I used to serve in the Standing Committee on Defence and it is unfortunate but the story was true. The story was correct," The Indian Express quoted Tewari as saying after launching former principal information officer I Ramamohan Rao's book.

He claimed there was a briefing of the Standing Committee on Defence after the Indian Express story was published, and officials privy to the briefing had told him the newspaper's story "may just be true".

"I was a part of the Standing Committee on Defence and I recall that in April of 2012, after the story appeared in The Indian Express, there was a briefing of the committee with respect to the story. During the briefing, the Defence Ministry maintained the stand that the government had officially taken. Privately, the officials involved in the briefing confirmed to me that the story 'may just be true'," Tewari told the daily.

"After the briefings, a draft report was prepared by the Standing Committee on Defence — chaired by Satpal Maharaj — where adverse references had been made to The Indian Express. After I took up the case, these references were expunged from the draft report," he added.

"The Shiromani Akali Dal's Naresh Gujral had also supported me in that endeavour. The reason I had strongly objected to those strictures against the newspaper was because of what I had been told by officials responsible that The Indian Express story 'may just be true'. It would be a tad unfair to expect officials to say anything beyond that, at least in our system," he said.

General (retd) VK Singh, who was then the Army chief, rubbished Tewari's claims and was quoted as saying by another The Indian Express report: "Manish Tewari ji has nothing to do these days. There is this book of mine, ask him to read it and every thing will be clear to him."

Singh was referring to his book "Courage and Conviction", in which he has criticised the then UPA government for alleged corruption and the role of Indira Gandhi in Operation Bluestar, ANI reported.

Even the Congress dismissed Tewari's claims. "I'm again clarifying there is absolutely no truth in it. My colleague (Tewari) was neither a member of the Cabinet Committee on Security nor any of relevant decision-making body. It was inappropriate, unnecessary and completely wrong to suggest there was truth in those allegations when made," said party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

What was The Indian Express April 2012 report about?

The national daily had on 4 April, 2012, carried a story titled "The January night Raisina Hill was spooked: Two key Army units moved towards Delhi without notifying Govt".

The story was about "unexpected" movement of military troops from Hissar, Haryana, towards Delhi on the night of 16 Janaury, 2012, which the then UPA government was unaware of. Another unit of the airborne 50 Para Brigade based in Agra was reportedly marching towards Delhi.

Singh had approached the Supreme Court in connection with his date of birth issue the day of the apparent troop movement.

"Central intelligence agencies reported an unexpected (and non-notified) movement by a key military unit from the mechanised infantry based in Hisar (Haryana) as a part of the 33rd Armoured Division (which is a part of 1 Corps, a strike formation based in Mathura and commanded by Lt Gen A K Singh) in the direction of the capital, 150 km away," the report stated.

The Army had stated the troop movement as "simple fog-time exercise". However, the government issued a "terror alert" and "an old contingency plan to delay just such a move".

On being asked for a detailed report on the troop movement, then director general of military operations (DGMO) Lt General A K Choudhary had told then defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma that the movement was a routine exercise. 

Choudhary was later asked to stop the troops and send them back "immediately". "Both formations were halted and sent back within hours," the report said.

The Ministry of Defence had back then declared the story "baseless".