Stay away from politics, General

Stay away from politics, General

Indian Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat has exceeded his brief with his remarks on the political situation in Assam. Speaking at a seminar, Gen Rawat claimed that the All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), led by Badruddin Ajmal, is growing at a faster pace than the BJP in the state. He made this remark while talking about the influx of migrants from Bangladesh into India's Northeast and was implying that the migration of Muslims into India is benefiting Muslim parties. Understandably, the army chief's observations have kicked up a controversy. It is not for the army chief to make a political assessment of which political party is growing, at whose cost or benefit and why, on a public platform. Gen Rawat is not new to controversy; he superseded two of his seniors to become the army chief. The BJP-led government at the Centre justified its decision then by claiming that he was enormously experienced in counter-insurgency operations. Critics pointed out, however, that his proximity to the BJP and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval played a role in his appointment. Gen Rawat has continued to court controversy with his comments on issues that do not fall under his remit. A year ago, he described Kashmiri stone pelters as terrorists and more recently, called for an overhaul of Jammu and Kashmir's education system. He also recommended Field Marshall Cariappa, India's first army chief, for the Bharat Ratna. It is unbecoming of an army chief to be publicly campaigning for government honours, even if it is for a much-respected predecessor.

India takes pride in being a vibrant democracy. However, its institutions, including the military, are getting politicised. It is in this context that Gen Rawat's wading into political waters is of grave concern. It has kicked up a debate on his motivations. Does the army chief have political ambitions? Is he aspiring for a larger role for the army in political decision-making? Or is he seeking to endear himself to his political masters in the hope of securing a post-retirement political sinecure? If the army chief was more circumspect in his remarks, such questions would not arise.

India's military is justifiably proud of its credentials as a disciplined, apolitical and secular force. Gen Rawat is eroding this institution's credibility with his politically-loaded comments. If he has political facts and figures of relevance to India's national security, he should share it with the government, but convey it through the right channels, not broadcast it at public meetings and through the media. The army chief must move away from the dangerous game he is playing. He needs to remain focussed on the security of India's borders., which has been under increasing threat during his term.

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