The act of Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat violating the norms and boundaries the military chief of a democratic country is bound to follow, must trigger apprehensions.
Rawat’s controversial remark came during a seminar organized by the Centre under the auspices of the Defense Ministry. He expressed his dislike on the growth of the regional party the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). Rawat commented that AIUDF was growing at a ‘faster pace’ than the BJP which grew from Jan Sangh with two Members of Parliament to its present strength. He mentioned this not as a statement of fact, but as a trend which should be curbed with vigilance.
Even in the concerns he expressed regarding migration from Bangladesh, what was reflected was the arguments of the BJP asserted through its stance of aggressive nationalism. Another fact is that those claims are not either historically or factually correct. The cardinal question is whether the army chief could take his own stance, and go public about matters that, as per the Constitution, come under the jurisdiction of the democratic government and. Rawat’s comments have naturally stirred protests. It might be after being convinced of their inappropriateness that the army later explained that Rawat had not intended anything either ‘politically or religiously’ in his remarks. However this is not sufficient to erase the wound inflicted on the democratic culture.
Rawat cited two reasons for the migration from Bangladesh. Both have larger dimensions in the backdrop of political history. The army chief said that one of the reasons was that they were running out of space to live in and used the Nazi term ‘lebensraum’ to describe it. The communal politics he meant by his second reason of ‘planned immigration’, is also clear. In the context of the controversies related to Assam’s ‘National Register of Citizens’, such remarks clearly show where they aim at. With machinations of Pakistan and China alleged to be behind all this, the army chief enters into the formation of foreign policies as well. The Army's encroachment in this manner into the domain of civilian government is a new trend. Politics is being militarized and army is being politicized under the influence of the far right wing.
It would only help in turning India into another Pakistan, which has been under military rule for more than half of the time since it came into existence. We take pride in being a country with no such tendencies at all. However, there are wrong trends seen in recent times. Former army chief V K Singh joined BJP soon after he resigned; he later became a Minister as well. He had remarked during an interview to a TV channel that he kept a watch on Jammu and Kashmir government. With that, the world came to know that the military could intervene in the democratic system. There are reports that it was the army which sabotaged the attempts whenever the Centre was ready to withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). General Rawat was appointed as the army chief in 2016 by bypassing two other senior generals.
Prior to this too, Rawat had virtually tried to over-ride military-civilian borders through other pronouncements, by publicly lauding demonetization, by conducting press conference regarding the surgical strike against Pakistan forces, and by justifying the military officer who had displayed a civilian on a jeep bonnet. Another encroachment into the legitimate territory of a democratic government was made when he made a public statement regarding Doklam dispute, a statement that irked China. And now the context of the political atmosphere of Rawat's latest controversial statement is also significant: two of the northeastern states, Tripura and Nagaland, are in the heat of poll campaigns which is more reason for seeing the Army Chief's utterances as interference in politics.
The statements of a military head impinging on core areas like civil rights, party politics, foreign policy, and elections bear crucial consequences. This style has to be corrected. Everyone is bound to protect the sanctity of civilian rule and to respect the boundaries defined by the Constitution. And an Army Chief has to recognize this too.