General Douglas MacArthur was easily one of the most powerful army generals there ever was. He was the youngest Chief of Staff of the US Army. He was the one that oversaw the surrender of Japan in 1945 as WWII ended. For many years he was effectively the ruler of Japan. He was Field Marshall of the Philippine army as also the Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific area. In 1951, in a continuing confrontation with his boss, President Harry Truman, he was fired. Gen. MacArthur remains a celebrated hero in the US. Parks and monuments are named after him. Stories about him are told in classrooms. Songs have been written and sung about him. Films have been made about him.
Gen. MacArthur left the army in honour. But if you go by the imagination of the likes of Shekhar Gupta the general would have conducted strange manoeuvres to battle the President instead of leaving and almost staged a coup. Maybe he would have even declared himself permanent emperor of Japan and Philippines This is what journalism has fallen to at the Indian Express. Turning incidents of ‘un-notified’ troop movement into fear-mongering and misleading the nation to believe there was grave danger of a coup. We will come to all of that in a bit.
Before you proceed maybe you would like to look up a bit of history. Here are some posts on this site about Gupta’s passionate skulduggery for the Congress party. ‘Shekhar Gupta's Summer Freeze’, ‘Shekhar Gupta - Doctoring & Nursing The Congress’ and ‘Saving Shekhar’s Indian Express’. Nobody can recall how a newspaper that was famous for its bold anti-establishment stance and standing up for freedom of the press has come to be a doormat for a political party. In the recent past Gupta and his pitiful rag, including writers like Tavleen Singh, have done hit jobs on anyone that has had a confrontation with the Congress-UPA govt. This includes Anna Hazare and Team Anna, particularly Kiran Bedi, Baba Ramdev and now comes the turn of the Army chief Gen.VK Singh.
So today, April 4, the Indian Express splashes a front page story with screaming headlines: “The January night Raisina Hill was spooked: Two key Army units moved towards Delhi without notifying Govt.” This is about the night of January 16 when the Army chief and the govt. were in a confrontation over the General’s age issue. On January 16 the army chief had filed a petition in the Supreme Court in the issue of his date of birth. Strange co-incidence at best you might say. What’s the story? Intel agencies reported an unexpected, un-notified movement by key military units, from infantry units based in Hisar (Haryana) in the direction of Delhi, about 150 km away. Following this, there was a flurry of activities in the defence department with even a Defence Secretary being recalled from a foreign tour. That the troops were stopped outside Delhi. To add to the drama, as IE states: “..The situation changed rapidly, though. Reports came in of yet another military movement “towards” Delhi. This unit was identified as a large element of the airborne 50 Para Brigade based at Agra”. The govt. didn’t know and according to the IE report army spokesperson had clarified that these were routine exercises.
But the mischief is not in the event or the incident of January 16 itself. The mischief is in the headline of IE, especially when read in the background of recent bad-blood between the Army and the Defence Ministry and the govt. It clearly led all other news outlets and the general public to believe that there was a possible ‘coup’ attempt that night. Clever! And throughout the day news channels have been busy discussing if it was indeed a coup attempt and what could have been the possible outcomes of such troop movements. Somewhere in his dark, dusty office at the IE building in Delhi Shekhar Gupta and his co-writers of the article, Ritu Sarin and Pranab Samanta must have had a good laugh over having fooled everybody, including their competitors. And if all that wasn’t enough you will have Sagarika Ghose, India’s best Defence expert, debating if reporting on ‘sensitive’ matters relating to the Army is ‘anti-national’ on her show FTN on CNN-IBN. Bravo!
So what exactly was the motive for Shekhar Gupta’s mischief? Let’s read the opening lines of his article: “This is a story you would tell with extreme care and caution. But it so starkly characterises the current state of top-level politico-military relations that it is a folly to keep it under wraps, as the entire establishment has tried to do for a full 11 weeks now”. So you read that and tighten your belts to read the biggest scandal or potential threat. But the article hits the peak in the first few lines and then its downhill all the way. For all the experts who speculated on a possible coup the IE cleverly doesn’t even mention the word even once. That is great trickery at its best because it leaves so much to your imagination. At a press conference reporters even asked A.K. Antony if there were threats of a coup and he dismissed the IE report as ‘baseless’. The PM dismissed the IE report as ‘alarmist’ and TimesNow had to call in expert Mahroof Raza to explain the coup possibilities. In his usual candid assessment Raza dismissed the possibilities as ‘nonsense’ without actually saying so. Another past senior army officer called the report “planted by anti-national elements”. I would tend to agree with him. So essentially the IE article was sensationalism at best and utter nonsense at worse. Other than the spooky headline there is actually nothing in the article that is worth being alarmed.
Given that the Army chief has had confrontations with the defence ministry, there is a stinging letter by him to the PM which was leaked (and exposed by DNA), and this has resulted in the govt cutting a sorry figure in the continuing episodes, something had to be done. That seems to be the motive behind the sensational headline by Shekhar Gupta which makes it sound as if the Army had nearly run over an elected govt in India. Secondly, the article also clandestinely casts a shadow over Gen. VK Singh and makes it sound like he may have gone to the extent of over-throwing the govt on account of his fight with the govt. Of course, it doesn’t say all this in so many words but let’s you draw that conclusion. So like with Team Anna and Kiran Bedi and others Shekhar Gupta attempted another hit job on the Army and the Army Chief. Unfortunately, his attempt can be best described as a ‘failed coup’.
Despite his confrontations with President Truman, Gen.MacArthur was and remains forever a very popular General. The govt. probably realised that there is little they could do with Gen. VK Singh considering the immense popularity he has acquired as he took on corruption and the corrupt in the Army. Had they so desired they could have removed Gen. Singh but not tried to dent his reputation and popularity. Instead, there has been a lot of mud-slinging against Gen. Singh from the govt. and particularly the ‘anti-national’ media. Shekhar Gupta’s ‘failed coup’ is another attempt at that and nothing more. That the entire story could be a 'plant' is further reasoned by this article in the the SundayGuardian: "Senior minister Sutradhar of coup report?"
Once upon a time the IE was the second most read newspaper in Bombay and in many other cities. It has sunk without a trace in many cities and survival against competition can only be with putting out lousy stories with screaming headlines. By evening today, Shekhar Gupta is the laughing stock of the nation. He will really have to start worrying how he spooked himself and IE. He managed to lay an egg alright. LOL! He made only one mistake – He should have called Arindam to count it before it hatched. As it stands, this has to be the worst report of the year gone terribly wrong so far.