Three Star Discontent: Lt Gen PC Bhardwaj versus Lt Gen PC Katoch

Lieutenant General Prabodh Chandra Bharadwaj (see photo, left) is a name you've probably seen a lot in the press lately. Well for those who haven't been paying attention (or couldn't care less, as could well and justifiably be the case!), he's the general who recently took over as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Army's Udhampur-headquartered Northern Command -- the command vacated by Lt Gen HS Panag after he was shunted out to Lucknow to head the Central Command.

Well anyway, Gen Bhardwaj is in the centre of a sticky HR mess in the Army's most sensitive command. After commanding 14 Corps in Leh, he took over as Northern Commander on March 1 this year, but he's been commanding without his crucial Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Prakash Chand Katoch (see photo, right), an Uttam Yudh Seva Medal awardee for Kargil. Katoch has proceeded on 90 days leave because he refuses to serve under Gen Bhardwaj -- a junior officer, 172 places below Katoch in the ladder of Army seniority. Gen Katoch is certain to be accomodated at Army Headquarters in Delhi very shortly as Director General Information Services -- such is the fever-pitch of angst, while Lt Gen JS Lidder will fill Katoch's position. But here's the glitch -- even Lidder is senior to Bhardwaj, but his relations with the Army top brass are not quite as healthy as Katoch's. You see what I mean? The incidence of such situtations has increased over the last ten-odd years.

A lot of officers now live in a constant state of equivocation about whether they'll have to serve under their juniors in the future. Remember the whole Lt Gen Raj Kadyan fiasco, where he was forced to serve under a junior at the Eastern Command. It's no longer a singular case. A lot of people are ascribing these skewed conditions -- where juniors are allowed to command their seniors -- as a result of postings being shuffled at the whim of the Army top brass, with little or no interference from the Defence Ministry. We saw how the Panag drama unfolded. There still hasn't been a satisfactory response about why he was given marching orders after just a year in Udhampur.

Even Defence Minister AK Antony was chuffed enough by the circumstances of the last few months to go off on a tangent about "fair and transparent promotion boards" while addressing the IAF Commanders' Conference in the Capital on Monday morning

On a final note, and for information's sake, Gen Bhardwaj himself is no stranger to media attention. After serving as GOC Delhi Area, made it to the three-star rank on his second attempt. After promotion to Lt Gen, he was immediately posted to command the sensitive Leh-based 14 Corps. Outlook magazine ran a piece last year about the "Rs 5,000 crore" high altitude ration scam which took place when he was Corps commander. The magazine wondered how Bhardwaj could be posted to such a sensitive corps on promotion when he was first denied that very promotion.

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