Sitrep: A thinking and analysing general

  • Mandeep Singh Bajwa, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 13, 2016 20:30 IST

Harcharanjit Panag spent his early years in his village in Fatehgarh Sahib, while his father Colonel Shamsher Singh was away soldiering. Thus, vigour and practicality of rural life added to his formidable intellect. He stood first among army cadets in the 33rd Course at NDA and third in the order of merit at IMA.

Fighting in the Bangladesh Campaign with his battalion, 4 Sikh, he noted that infantry attacks were poorly planned without emphasis on fire and movement. A topper on all courses, his focus remained on training. Posted to IMTRAT in Bhutan, he found fresh impetus to his ideas. Transferred to 5/5 Gorkha Rifles, an instructional appointment at IMA followed.

Panag’s great opportunity to employ his ideas on manoeuvre warfare came with a move to the mechanised infantry. He laid stress on the concept of reconnaissance, thoroughly understanding the subject after a course in the USSR. Serving with 9 Mech, he took over the command of 1 Mech, moving the battalion to Ladakh, a pioneering effort. The general had a number of instructional assignments, including two at the staff college, involving academic development. Another foreign assignment involved setting up a staff college in Zambia.

After command of an armoured brigade and a general staff job, he led the Battalik Brigade. Here, he captured Point 5310 in difficult terrain using the troops of 14 Sikh. Panag later commanded 33 Armoured Division during the military stand-off of Operation Parakram. He put his expertise in reconnaissance acquired in the USSR to good effect. A move to army HQs as the director-general of military training was used by him to try out and implement his ideas. Command of the desert strike formation, XXI Corps followed.

The pinnacle of his career was his tenure as Northern Army Commander, where he refocused ideas, improved skill levels, imparted realistic training, ensured reduction in human rights’ violation and lessened the emphasis on the notorious body-count syndrome. The general laid stress on ethics and moral superiority. This crusading zeal led to his lateral move to Central Command for reasons other than professional.

Next month: How General Panag implemented his ideas.

A mockery of military traditions

Beating the Retreat is an ancient military observance denoting the playing of drums, bugles or other musical instruments to recall troops out on patrol or the end of the day’s fighting. As such, this is a ceremony exclusive to the military and must remain so for reasons of élan and tradition. The induction of bands from the police and central armed police forces in this year’s Beating the Retreat ceremony at Vijay Chowk struck a jarring note. Out of place also were Indian wind and percussion instruments introduced for the first time.

The function of military bands is to play while on the march, the objective being to enable troops to keep in step and at the same time uplift their morale. Instruments like the sitar and table, while superlative in their musical worth, just cannot fill this role. Indian instruments that can be played while on the march are among others the sringa (blowhorn) and the nagara (drum). However, these did not find a place in the programme. Earlier, Indian troops were led by bands playing dhol and sarnai. But these soon faded away being replaced with Western instruments.

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Blurb: General HS Panag, a soldier-intellectual used his superior understanding to impart much needed lessons in training and operational art to the troops he commanded

Strap: The introduction of police bands and instruments like the Sitar and Table in this year’s Beating of the Retreat are not in consonance with military traditions

Picture Caption 1: The handsome, fit General Panag pictured while commanding the desert strike corps. The general believes implicitly that moral superiority is the bedrock of military life. (General HS Panag)

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