As a tense stand-off continues on the Sino-Indian border in Ladakh, where a Chinese patrol has apparently established a camp eight km inside India, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is confronted with a difficult decision — an inexplicable Army proposal to shift top generals, which would see key hotspots being placed under new commanders, unfamiliar with the situation.
The proposal, personally cleared by the Army Chief, General Bikram Singh, would leave Ladakh without both its top generals on July 1. That day, the commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps, Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Rajan Bakshi, who is handling the ongoing crisis at Daulat Beg Oldi, would be shifted to Lucknow. The same day, his boss, the Northern Army Commander, Lt Gen K T Parnaik, will retire. Replacing Parnaik in Udhampur would be Lt Gen Sanjeev Chachra, currently commanding the Western Command in Chandimandir.
Also proposed for transfer on July 1 is Lt Gen Anil Chait, commander of the Lucknow-based Central Command, which looks after the disputed Uttarakhand border with Tibet. From this key operational command, Lt Gen Chait would move as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, a mouthful that is abbreviated to Chief of Integrated Service Command (CISC). Replacing Chait in Lucknow would be the newly promoted Lt Gen Rajan Bakshi. While Bakshi is entirely familiar with Ladakh, he would be new to the operational situation in Central Command.
The Army Chief’s proposal would also leave the crucial Chandimandir-based Western Command with a new commander. Replacing Chachra in Chandimandir would be Lt Gen Philip Campose, currently heading the Army’s Perspective Planning (PP) Directorate, who would move to Chandimandir on promotion.
Two top Army generals and a senior MoD official have expressed serious concern to Business Standard over these proposed changes, which would leave Northern, Western and Central commands in new hands during a sensitive period.
“We don’t know how this Chinese intrusion into Daulat Beg Oldi will play out. The Chinese could pack up and leave tomorrow or they could stay on, forcing us into a major operation like in 1986, when they intruded into Wangdung, in Arunachal Pradesh. Either way, it is ridiculous to change the two top commanders in a key sector simultaneously,” said a senior MoD official.
MoD officials are wondering why GOC 14 Corps, Lt Gen Bakshi, cannot be sidestepped from Leh to Udhampur, taking over Northern Command from Lt Gen Parnaik instead of being shifted to Lucknow. This would allow continuity in handling the situation on the Sino-Indian border.
The ball is currently in MoD’s court, which can approve or reject the Army’s proposal. There is serious apprehension within MoD, since the government’s Allocation of Business Rules, 1961, squarely makes the defence secretary, as head of the Department of Defence, responsible for India’s defence.
“It is hard for the defence secretary to forget what happened in 1962, after Lt Gen B M Kaul was appointed commander of 4 Corps in NEFA, as the situation was escalating. Many historians blame the severity of India’s defeat in NEFA on the appointment of Lt Gen Kaul,” said a senior MoD official.
A senior general also pointed that Army Headquarters has always emphasised the importance of “tenure stability” of Army commanders. According to current promotion rules, a lieutenant general can only be promoted to Army commander (i.e. to head Northern Command, Western Command, etc.) if he has at least two years of residual service left before retirement. This was to ensure that an Army commander spends enough time in command, so that he is familiar with the operating environment in which his command operates.
“Now, they want to post out the Western and Central Army commanders, who have barely completed a year in their jobs. The new commanders would have to start afresh,” said a serving general.
MoD officials note that transferring Army commanders has proved controversial. In 2008, there was a furore when then Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor posted Lt Gen H S Panag, then the Northern commander, out from Udhampur to the Central Army in Lucknow. This took place after Lt Gen Panag initiated inquiries into dubious financial contracts that had been entered into during Gen Kapoor’s tenure at Udhampur.
Commenting on the proposal, Army Headquarters said, “There are three Army commanders’ vacancies that have to be filled and so we have proposed the right officer for the right job.”
It is not clear whether this means that the Army regards Lt Gen Chachra, an infantry officer, ill-suited to command the mechanised heavy Western Command, or whether Lt Gen Bakshi, an armoured corps officer who has successfully commanded an infantry division and corps, unsuited for Northern Command.