The army chief has told the defence minister that Lt Gen. V.K. Singh, who heads the Eastern
Command, has taken
an “undue interest” in
a north Bengal land
case involving Kapoor’s
principal staff officer and military secretary Lt Gen. Avadhesh Prakash. Kapoor has resisted
a recommendation to
service before his
New Delhi, Dec. 29: A full-fledged row has broken out in the military establishment between the two top generals of the Indian Army: the chief, General Deepak Kapoor, and his putative successor and the Eastern Command boss, Lt General V.K. Singh.
The row is the latest in a series of tensions that have been building up between the army chief and the eastern army commander who is the senior-most lieutenant general.
The latest round has been triggered by a court of inquiry convened by the eastern army commander who is based in Fort William in Calcutta. It has asked for the sacking of Kapoors principal staff officer (PSO) and military secretary, Lt Gen. Avadhesh Prakash, who may be forced to make a premature exit.
The chief has made an abortive attempt to defend his key aide. Kapoor told defence minister A.K. Antony that Lt Gen. Singh was taking an undue interest in the case.
The court of inquiry, presided over by Tezpur-based 4 Corps commander Lt Gen. K.T. Parnaik, had forwarded its findings to Lt Gen. Singh. Based on the findings and on consultations with the judge advocate general in his command, the eastern army commander recommended the termination of services of Lt Gen. Prakash because of his alleged involvement in a land scam in north Bengal.
The defence minister, who zealously guards his
Mr Clean reputation,
summoned the army chief on Christmas Eve and wanted Lt Gen. Prakash to be eased out. Gen. Kapoor demurred and defended his aide but Antony was not convinced. A source said the minister ‘cold-shouldered’ the army chief the next day when Gen. Kapoor met him to convey his Christmas greetings
Even as the report of the court of inquiry was being studied and analysed, another probe from the central command brought out the involvement without blaming of the military secretary in awarding a Rs 1.7-crore contract to a north Bengal-based realtor, Dilip Aggarwal.
A senior defence ministry source has given The Telegraph an account of the build-up and where the stand-off is now headed.
While this is at its nuts and bolts a narrative on corruption in the military and politics over promotions, it is above all indicative of a serious communication gap between army headquarters and the Eastern Command, a fully operational authority whose area of responsibility covers the maximum length of international borders (with China, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar). Its components are also actively involved in counter-insurgency.
After the report of the court of inquiry was hand-delivered from Calcutta at 9.30 on the morning of December 23, Wednesday, army chief Kapoor was summoned for an unscheduled meeting by Antony in his first-floor corner office in South Block that overlooks the expanse of India Gate and Boat Club lawns.
The Fort William boss
had convened a court
of inquiry that indicted
Lt Gen. Prakash in the
land case. Gen. Kapoor feels the eastern
commander does not
have the authority to
summon the army
chief’s principal staff
officer. Lt Gen. V.K. Singh, whose age is caught
in a discrepancy,
was bypassed earlier
for the post
The office is large enough to make the slightly built defence minister seem even more diminutive.
General Kapoor in his winter staff-duty olive green uniform with the gleaming four stars of his rank on his epaulettes marched from his chamber on the same floor to the corner office. He was ushered in and asked to sit across the polished mahogany desk from Antony.
The meeting in the afternoon of December 24 after Antony had flown back from Hyderabad lasted 40 minutes. The defence minister had seen the adverse media coverage over the military secretary.
The discussion was on the Eastern Commands recommendation to terminate the services of Prakash over the alleged Rs 300-crore land scam in north Bengal.
Antony sought a summary of the investigation and the recommendations. He is believed to have suggested that the military secretary be prevailed upon to put in his papers to avoid further embarrassment to his ministry and the army. This should be done quickly because Lt Gen. Prakash is in any case due to retire at the end of January.
Gen. Kapoor, according to The Telegraphs source, demurred and defended his PSO. He is understood to have explained to the defence minister that:
The Eastern Command under Lt Gen. Singh, who was the convening authority of the court of inquiry that has indicted the military secretary, has taken an undue interest in investigating Lt Gen. Prakash. The military secretary was called as a witness to the court and the eastern commander does not have authority to investigate him or recommend action against one of the eight principal staff officers to the chief in Army Headquarters in New Delhi.
It may be wiser, the chief is said to have suggested at first, to allow the military secretary to go quietly into retirement, in about a months time. Although Lt Gen. Prakash is due to retire on January 31, proceedings can continue even if he retires.
The army chief suggested that the recommendation to terminate the services — in other words, cashier or sack the military secretary — should be toned down to administrative action that could involve cutting his benefits but will not drape an officer with such a long career in ignominy.
Defence minister Antony, who takes pride in his Mr Clean image, was not convinced. He conveyed that Lt Gen. Prakash should be persuaded to put in his papers if he does not do so volun- tarily.
The following day, December 25, Gen. Kapoor visited the defence minister at his residence, ostensibly to wish him on Christmas. Staff at the defence ministers residence expected the meeting to last about 30 minutes or so. But it ended after 10 minutes. Cold-shouldered, a staffer said.
What had happened was this: during the time of the first unscheduled meeting, the defence minister was apparently not well briefed on the second investigation in Lucknow by a major general.
That investigation indicted seven officers, including a major general, in the Ranikhet Kumaon Regimental Centre land scam. Military secretary Lt Gen. Prakash is the colonel commandant of the Kumaon Regiment (published by The Telegraph on December 26). It was a double whammy for the army chief and his principal aide.