Needless comments


Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat’s political comments about the ‘inversion in demographics’ and a ‘planned migration’ from Bangladesh into North Eastern Region (NER) are obnoxious by any standards and reflect a parochial mindset, besides being excessively political. His comments amount to outpouring of thought process that is unfortunately harboured by the right wing groups in the country particularly the Sangh Parivaar. The latter have been raising the issue of illegal immigrants in NER in an attempt to flare up communal tensions and to suit their own politics of narrow-mindedness. By and large, in the past, service chiefs have a long and healthy tradition of maintaining a distance from the political issues in their public comments. This has been due to ensure their discipline within the ranks of soldiers as well as to lay down the subservience of the institution of army to the political leadership. This has also encouraged composite and secular culture in the Indian armed forces which have serving members drawn from all the religious groups besides the tribals from different parts of the country. At a seminar in Delhi recently, General Rawat strayed into the political mine-field when he talked about issues of religious identity, demographics and India’s relations with its neighbours. His observation is that migration from Bangladesh into India is driven by two factors. The first is the acute pressure on land in Bangladesh. “The other issue,” he said, “is planned immigration which is taking place because of our western neighbour… It is the proxy dimension of warfare.” This strategy, he added, is supported by ‘our northern neighbour’. These references were clearly to Pakistan and China. Such departures from a tradition of being reticent, if not totally silent, are rare. But it is exactly this self-restraint that has served both Indian democracy and the military well. India’s success in keeping the Army out of politics, compared to most other countries that gained independence from colonial rule in the mid-20th century, has in fact been the subject of scholarly research. Sadly, the remarks are a reflection that the ruling NDA-government and its constituents have been making attempts to saffronise the Indian armed forces, which emanates from the clear agenda of the Sangh Parivaar. It also appears that General Rawat’s comments were inspired by his bid to please the right wing political outfit that promoted him to the current position by superseding some of the serving officers last year to suit their own agenda. By the mandate of the Constitution of India in a democratic setup, the neat separation has allowed the Army to maintain its professionalism and retain public trust even as it is frequently called upon to assist the administration in times of communal strife and sub-regional insurgencies. This arrangement and the tradition so far have also inhibited governments from bidding the Army to do their politically expedient tasks. It is a balance that must hold, and this is why General Rawat’s possibly off-the-cuff observations on foreign policy and domestic politics have been unfortunate. The ramifications of the general’s remarks are huge. There is a risk of hostile rejoinders and reactions from India’s regional rivals. There are also risks of reactions from home, which have already come in the form of a sharp response from the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). Its chief and founder Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, who was reacting to General Rawat’s comment that the AIUDF in Assam was growing at a faster clip than the Bharatiya Janata Party did, charged him with straying from his constitutional mandate. The head of another political party tweeted that it is not the job of the Army to comment on political matters and current state of affairs. The point is that even if such remarks were made in good faith, they can result in needless controversies that do nothing to promote the Army’s strong and fully deserving image of an institution that is above politics. In fact, such comments amount to denigrating the institution of Indian army that has survived such onslaughts in the past.