Panag ka Panga

Don't know if you people have been following the clash between Army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor and Northern Commander Lt Gen HS Panag. Well, if you haven't, here's the gist. The Army has recommended that Gen Panag, currently a year into his tenure at Command HQ in Udhampur, be transferred to the far less operationally prestigious Central Command HQ in Lucknow. There have been some pretty hard reports in the media about why this is. The other fact is that Gen Panag is a stickler for the rules and has engendered a raj in the Northern Command that comes down harder than ever on fraud and corruption. Speculation is rife that Gen Panag may have rubbed the Army chief (his predecessor in Udhampur) the wrong way by sending his scam-sniffer dogs a little too deep into the paperwork. Either way, as has been pointed out so succintly by my colleague Sujan Datta in his front page report in today's Telegraph, the Army is steeply divided into two camps -- the Panag camp, and the Kapoor camp. This is a dangerous game, but with a year to go before he takes off his lanyard, Gen Panag has decided to firebomb. He's meeting Defence Minister AK Antony today to see if he can spike Gen Kapoor's transfer recommendation.

Those close to Panag confide that the officer is positively heady from the public image that he has managed to obtain for himself over a year (sounds like a certain Defence Minister we all know so well now!). But it must be said that a chief's prerogative to transfer is just that -- his prerogative. However, it must also be said that it just doesn't look right that a Northern Commander who, for once, is actually devoting a substantial fraction of his energies in cleaning up dirt, stands to be shunted off mid-narrative to an area where he'll probably have to quietly bide his time before retiring at the end of the year. But that again, is not the point. What if the Army chief has real reasons? Well if he does, how come Gen Panag still wants to meet Antony? Incidentally, according to a report in Mail Today, Panag spoke out quite a bit about corruption in Northern Command at the October Commanders Conference in Delhi -- that wasn't taken lightly apparently.

The Army publicity machinery has, of course, shouted itself hoarse about how these are "misleading plants" and "absolutely wrong" stories. The fact is, this isn't a story that's come from the media. Every single Lieutenant General is talking about it. Now I'll admit there are a large number of Lt Gens who's tattle should be taken with some chat masala, but when you've got all of them talking about it, you know there's something. It just doesn't look right. It doesn't fit. Which is why on the channel I worked for, we said, "We'd like to put a simple question to the Army chief. When he has talked so highly of cracking down on corruption, why interrupt the work of a brother officer?"

The real truth is still hidden in the unusual quantity of propaganda emerging from all and sundry about what is, funnily enough, purportedly a "routine transfer". It's messy. And it could get worse.

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