A COUP IN ATEA CUP
Maj-gen Ahmed Shiyam of the Maldives Defence Force is the only Indian-trained officer to get involved in a coup. His initial education was at Sandhurst, but he attended the prestigious National Defence College ( NDC), New Delhi, in 2011. He returned to Maldives, joined the coup of 2012, and was promptly catapulted to Chief of Defence Force.
His NDC experience obviously did not prevent him from venturing into extra-constitutional territory. But another academic stint might have. He was also the first Maldives officer to attend the Command and Staff Course in Quetta, Pakistan, where the Pakistan armed forces train their future military leadership. NDC New Delhi is clearly not where coups are made; but Quetta is a different story.
This came to my mind during the recent murmur of an attempted coup in India. However far-fetched it may seem to most, there were some who took the coup story seriously. It was certainly serious enough to warrant animated discussion on primetime television. The story itself was false. There has never been a coup attempt in India, in the distant or the recent past.
The essential ingredients for a successful coup do not exist in India. For starters, a coup requires that the officer corps be dominated by a cabal, a clan, or a tribe. It is also vital that a faith in either religion or ideology unites them. It helps if they belong to a common region. If most speak the same language, it is always an advantage. Punjabi is the lingua franca of the coup in Pakistan. The sociological composition of the Indian Army precludes a coup from ever being planned, let alone launched.
All that happened on that foggy January day was a mobilisation scheme practice, which every combat unit must rehearse periodically. Nothing more, or less, than that. Obviously a home ministry spook was so spooked by the mid-january manoeuvres that he transmitted his anxiety up the chain, setting off a series of perceptions that eventually found their way into the public domain as moves of a coup. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any political personality who feels destabilised by elements of two units moving towards Delhi need only look closer around the Capital.
The Indian Army maintains two brigades within the environs of Delhi, with air defence and artillery units in support. In addition there are three Territorial Army units within this political space, as well as two of the National Security Guard composed entirely of Army personnel on deputation. That is the quantum of combat power already available within the limits of Delhi city; a division’s worth of fighting forces. Anyone with Bonapartist inclinations had no need to call in elements of mechanised infantry or the paratroopers.
The Pakistan Army has a brigade in Rawalpindi, virtually earmarked as the coup task force. All coups begin with the first mobilisation scheme put into motion by the Rawalpindi formation, and there are a number of colloquial jokes about the appointment of Commander 161 Brigade, Rawalpindi. In India’s case there are two brigades in Delhi, physically already closer to the power centres of the country, and nary a mention about who commands these formations. This reassurance is only because the Indian Army has never, and will never, countenance a military overthrow of civilian democratic structures. It is simply not in the DNA of the Army. So the moot question—why so much combat power within Delhi? Two reasons account for that. 1984 continues to haunt the Indian Army. Even as it lost scores of officers and men to the savagery of those days, the breakdown of policing order in Delhi remains etched in the blood of innocents. The Capital cannot be allowed to live that hell again, just as it cannot remain vulnerable to the inefficiencies of bureaucratic structures when disaster strikes, natural and/or man-made. Saving lives of leaders motivates the Indian Army, not taking them. In that sense, the movement of troops from Hissar and Agra towards Delhi is the least of the worries for India’s political leadership. The Indian Army will never launch a coup against democracy.
The essential ingredients for a successful coup do not exist in India. For starters, a coup requires that the officer corps be dominated by a cabal, a clan, or a tribe. It is also vital that a faith in either religion or ideology unites them. It helps if they belong to a common region.