Army chief’s reassuring words

Army chief’s reassuring words

Gen M M Naravane

The new chief of army staff, Gen M M Naravane, has done well to affirm that the armed forces owe their allegiance to the Constitution of India and it is the oath of allegiance to it that should guide the forces in all their actions at all time. He expanded the idea by stating that it is an allegiance to “the core values that define the Preamble to the Constitution—justice, liberty, equality and fraternity”. He also asserted that the armed forces respected the fundamental rights of citizens and that the army was an “army of the people and for the people, and whatever we do, will be for them”. The words have greater resonance when they are read with the popular definition of democracy as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. 

Gen Naravane’s comments are especially important because they come after many controversial statements made by his predecessor and current Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat. He had made many comments which were overtly or covertly political in nature and were sometimes seen as supportive of or in agreement with the politics of the government and the ruling party. Just before his term as the army chief ended, he openly criticised the students who were protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Throughout his term as the army chief, he had made statements that were seen as improper and unworthy of being made by the head of a professional force. These were against the traditions of the army as an apolitical and secular institution. Politicisation could affect the strength and fighting power of the army and could hurt national security which the army is expected and duty-bound to protect. 

Gen Naravane’s statement has come as a corrective and is therefore welcome. He had said, a few days after he took over, that the army is apolitical and it was a misconception to think otherwise. He has explained it and made it clearer now with a reference to the Constitution and reiterating his commitment to its foundational values and principles. The promise to respect the fundamental rights of citizens is important because the armed forces have in some situations invited charges of violation of citizens’ rights. The assertion of the value of human rights is relevant at a time when they are coming under pressure. The mention of the Preamble is timely and inspiring too. There may also be a happy allusion in the General’s remarks to the opening words of the Constitution which we, the people of India, have given ourselves as the basis of a secular, democratic republic. That is also reassuring.

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