General Rawat’s remarks draw political controversy

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In our constitutional framework, armed forces have been given a distinguished position headed by the President of India. They are solely responsible to safeguard the borders of the country. Therefore the Chief of Army should behave in a responsible way. However, it is a matter of anguish that the present Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat seems to be overenthusiastic in making political comments. Recently he made a comment which would come from a political leader and not an army chief. He commented on the rise of a political party in Assam. Participating in a seminar in Delhi he said a planned influx of people from Bangladesh into Northeast was taking place as part of a proxy war by Pakistan with the help of China, with its main aim to keep the area disturbed. He said, “When we talk of Jana Sangh with two members of Parliament and where they have reached, AIUDF is moving at a faster pace in the state of Assam”. The party leader and Assam MP Maulana Badruddin Ajmal on February 22 criticized Gen Rawat for commenting on the rise of his political party All India United Democratic Front (AIUDPF). Taking strong exception to the remark by the Army Chief, Badruddin Ajmal said Bipin Rawat indulged in politics and this is against the constitutional responsibility given to him. He tweeted, “General Rawat has made a political statement shockingly. Why it is a concern for the Army Chief that a political party based on democratic and secular values is rising faster than BJP”. He indirectly referred to the increase of Muslim population in some districts and this should not be a matter of concern for an Army Chief. He did not take names but his reference was clearly to Pakistan and China.

It was a clear departure from an established tradition of Army in our country. Contrary  to some countries which got independence along with India, where Army is calling shots, in India the Army is led and guided by political leadership and it is confined to its prime duty of safeguarding the borders of the country. Army men may have their independent views about their political predilection but armed forces and its officers cannot express their choice officially. Such behaviour of Army officers is bound to damage its collective image. Besides performing their war-time obligation, the forces are deployed in cities and areas where the civil authorities are not able to control the law and order situation. Here also the Army should be neutral and non-partisan.

The AIUDF which was formed in 2005 by Badruddin Ajmal, his colleagues, now has three MPs in Lok Sabha and 13 MLAs in the Assam assembly. The government of India is making sure that migration is completely stopped and the cutoff date for past immigration has also been fixed. The matter is under active consideration of the government of India. This is a current and delicate demographic and religious identity problem and all political parties are concerned with it. Army Chief must have been fully aware of the situation. Then the question arises as to what compelled him to express his views on the subject. This a fact that the BJP hiked its number in the Lok Sabha by exploiting religious sentiments on the pretext of Mandir-Masjid issue, but this is not the case with the rise of the All India United Democratic Front. Another Muslim MP in his tweet said that it was not the job of the Army Chief to comment on the rise of a political party. Badruddin Ajmal took it a serious matter and drew the attention of the President and Prime Minister to the issue. Former Army Chief V K Singh was in an eye of controversy but that was about his age. Perhaps this controversy led him to join the BJP and the Prime Minister picked him up for his cabinet. Such ambition should not be harboured by Army men while they are in service.

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