Commander Clean takes on General - Dispute between army top guns over transfer of Gul Panag's dad reaches Antony

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  • Published 4.01.08

New Delhi, Jan. 4: The head of the army’s largest command is taking a tiff with the army chief to the political level, having sought an audience with defence minister A.K. Antony tomorrow to protest against a move to transfer him.

Lieutenant General Harcharanjit Singh Panag is scheduled to meet the defence minister and present his version after army chief General Deepak Kapoor proposed to transfer him from the Udhampur-based operations-intensive Northern Command to the much quieter Central Command headquarters in Lucknow.

The reasons for the differences between the army chief and the commander are not being stated by either side, but second and third-hand versions are available from officers junior to them.

Whatever the merit or demerits of the allegations and counter-allegations, there is one definite fact: there is almost a complete breakdown of understanding between the army chief and the commander, whose responsibilities are among the most onerous in the force — covering the Line of Control, the Siachen Glacier and counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Lt Gen Panag, the father of actress Gul Panag, has been the northern army commander for one year since he took over from Kapoor.

In January 2006, Kapoor moved to army headquarters as vice-chief before he became the chief in October. Panag is scheduled to retire in December 2008.

There are three corps and nearly 370,000 troops in the Northern Command that Panag currently heads. The Central Command does not have even a single corps under it.

In effect, Panag’s transfer from the Northern to the Central Command is being interpreted by officers as a blow to his dignity. The move has been initiated from army headquarters but will not be through till it is cleared by the defence minister and the cabinet appointments committee.

Information gleaned from officers at army headquarters suggests that the chief and the commander do not see eye to eye on Panag’s style of working. But his by-the-book approach to corruption cases, harassment complaints and courts martials has bolstered the defence minister’s clean image.

Through 2007, Panag acted swiftly on cases, pulling up up to 16 colonels and lieutenant colonels on one issue, taking the cue from Antony who came into the defence ministry with a reputation as a stickler for rules out to cleanse the military machine.

However, some of the cases that Panag acted on reflected poorly on the army chief. He had ordered a probe into the procurement of tents and eggs (as rations for the troops), which was allegedly made with Kapoor’s special permission when he was the northern army commander.

The other version suggests that investigations into each of the cases put up or accelerated by Panag have taken place because the army chief took the initiative. He was in no position to use his office to influence the outcome of these investigations. Besides, nearly all but one of these cases relate to “procedural irregularities” and not scams.

Army sources do admit that one probe initiated by police has unearthed a scam in the pilferage of rations in the Ladakh region. Army rations were sold in the open market, according to the investigation that is still on.