The countrywide protests against the Citizneship Amendment Act (CAA) has passed two weeks. One of the major swings over the last few days is that those who had backed CAB in parliament have now started retracing their stance. The factor that swayed their position is nothing but the force of the sharp slogan raised from the scenes of strike launched by students in the capital, whch later widened into a popular agitation. The past days proved that it is not a frenzied and violent gang of protesters that are in the forefront of the demonstrations. The streets of the country have been witnesseing the demoratic march in which the citizen's fundamental right to differ and protest was used peacefully. The resistance front is going forward with that much of diversity too.
Viewed from this angle, the ruling establishment is ruthlessly suppressing this protest, which holds a unique model for the novel political advances in the current world. Realising the futility of the attempts to gag the strikes through police raj and internet shutdowns, the government has given a free hand to the forces to use gun at will and thus created theatres of battle. And that exactly is what has been revealed by two reports by fact-finding missions which have come from Uttar Pradesh ruled by Yogi Adityanath. It was when this planned 'genocide' has been happening that the chief of armed forces, General Bipin Rawat came out in support of the government. Through political statements like "leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate directions, as we are witnessing in a large number of universities and college students", he has destroyed the precedent followed hitherto by the military establishment of the country.
Military officers are barred by Section 21 of the Army Act Section 21 from participating in programmes conducted by political parties or publicly expressing political opinions. Although on rare ocasions since indepenence, senior military officers have made some statements, it was not repeated after that. For the last five decades at least, our forces have functioned as a neutral set-up keeping away from all political discourse and completely impartially. That also gives a simple answer to the question why this country did not have a military coup. Nor did the Indian military ever have a role of a government spokesman, like say that of China's People's Liberation Army. However, now Gen Bipin Rawat's pronouncement clearly runs counter to this tradition of discipline. In fact the tone and tenor of his speech reminded one of a clarification meeting to justify the CAA, being organized by the BJP leadersip at every district headquarters.
Even if the content of his speech is taken as such, it saw only one side of the issue. Neither the flaws of the law that overtuns the fundamental characteristic of the constitution, nor the blood and tears of those who selflessly plunged into the protests, seems to have come to the mind of the army chief. Thus the speech constituted nothing more than a political service to the central government when the latter is on the defensive. The comment by Congress leader Brijesh Kalappa was that "if the army chief is allowed to speak on political issues today, it also permits him to attempt an army takeover tomorrow!!". CPM Poligburo also shared the concern over Modi government politicising the forces. Both the hazards mentioned merit serious consideration. Once the military starts taking up matters, that would spell the demise of democracy. Therefore, as the Opposition demanded Bipin Rawat should apologize and withdraw his statement. But what his office did instead was to issue a new press release justifying the comments.
The Army chief's statement also reflects the fate of the military of a country falling from a democratic order to the abyss of fascism. It is not the first time under the Modi government that senior military officers makes such political interventions. On 14 December, eastern army commanded Lieutenant General Anil Chauhan had made a similar remark. He said in so many words that although the apprehensions of the norotheastern states were not considered, the country had for long wished for the citizenship law and that when that is implemented, the extreme left forces would have problems. It is to be remembered that he said this while his force was entering states including Assam to maintain peace. In this backdrop, the criticism that the miliary would slip from 'national security' to 'party seva' has to be taken at face value. It is public knowledge how BJP had used issues including the Balakot terrorist attacks for political gains. And there are also those who justified the Rafale deal directly. What has to be understood is that now under this government, the prestige of the military, like other constitutional institutions, has also been eroded. Thus the remarks by the army chief will become cause also for the current protests to expand into a resistance against this propensity to play with fire.