New Delhi/Visakhapatnam, April 4 - The stir caused by a media report Wednesday morning about an attempted 'military coup' in January turned into a whimper by the evening after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it 'alarmist' and Defence Minister A.K. Antony termed it 'baseless' and vouching for the army's pro-democracy credentials.
The nation woke up Wednesday to an Indian Express front page report that said a Hisar-based mechanised infantry unit and elements from the 50 Para Brigade in Agra had moved towards the capital on the night of Jan 16 without following the standard operating procedure of informing the defence ministry in advance.
The report said since this happened around the time when Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh was waging a judicial battle against the government over his age row, it created unease and suspicion in Delhi.
The report, soon after hitting the stands, went viral online, with several postings and comments for and against it.
But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, maintaining his cool and composure, called it 'alarmist' and that it 'should not be taken at face value.'
Defence Minister A.K. Antony too thrashed the report as 'baseless' and added there was no doubt about the patriotism of the armed forces.
The prime minister also spoke on the reported tussle between the government and Gen. Singh.
'The army chief's office is an exalted office. All of us have an obligation to do nothing that lowers its dignity,' he said, when asked if there was unease between the government and the army chief.
In Visakhapatnam, where Antony had gone to formally induct a nuclear-powered submarine, the minister clarified that the report was 'absolutely baseless'.
The minister, looking poised, swore by the 'patriotism' of Indian soldiers.
He said the army movement was a 'usual, natural activity' and that there was 'nothing unusual' about it.
Antony said the Indian Army and the other wings of the armed forces 'will do everything' to safeguard the country's democratic values. 'I can guarantee you that'.
The defence minister asked the media not embroil the armed forces into such controversies.
'My humble request to you is that the Indian Army cannot afford the luxury of these controversies.'
The Congress, meanwhile accused the newspaper of 'sensationalising' the issue.
'The Express has tried to sensationlise the news, which is not proper,' Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi told IANS.
'The media should be very careful as far as the army is concerned and should not sensationalise news,' he said.
Another Congress spokesperson, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said: 'No fact has justified such speculation.'
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick in wanting to put the government on the mat and sought the 'proactive' role of the prime minister in resolving the 'rising trust deficit' between the army and the government.
'We must ensure, that there is no room for nor any apprehension or any sponsored story,' BJP general secretary and spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said here.
It also sought the ouster of Antony as defence ministry over the recent government tiff with the army.
'The relationship between the army and political leadership of the country is at an all time low...it's a matter of very deep concern,' Prasad said.
'The UPA (United Progressive Alliance) has messed up a whole lot of things in governance because of incapacity of leadership, governance deficit and a whole range of confusion...even army has become a victim of that. The balance between the army and the government needs to be re-established with respect,' he said.