January 26, 2020

Don’t Politicise the Army

THE public remarks made by some leaders of the armed forces are a departure from the strictly professional and non-political role of the armed forces.  This is happening because the Modi government seems to be consciously encouraging the top echelons of the defence forces to air views in line with its Hindutva nationalist outlook. 

General Bipin Rawat, days before assuming the post of chief of defence staff, made a provocative statement regarding the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. He said: “Leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate directions…..We are witnessing in a large number of university and college students – the way they are leading masses of crowds to carry out arson and violence in cities and towns – this is not leadership.” Such a statement on a domestic political issue came from the army chief who had earlier also made controversial remarks. It may be recalled that General Rawat was promoted as the army chief superseding two generals senior to him.  At no time was there any attempt by the government to criticise his political remarks, or, to rein him in.

That General Rawat’s case is not an aberration became clear when some days earlier to his latest statement, another general waded in to the CAA controversy. Lieutenant General Anil Chauhan, the Army Commander of the Eastern Command, said in Kolkata on December 14, 2019: “The current government is keen on taking hard decisions that have been pending for a long time.”  He further added that the CAA was passed “despite reservations from a couple of Northeastern states”. 

It is unfortunate that at a time when the CAA is being seen as an assault on the basic concept of citizenship under the constitution, an army general comes out defending it.

The newly appointed army chief, General M M Naravane, made an important statement on January 11, 2020 in his press conference on the eve of army day. General Naravane asserted that the allegiance of the armed forces is only to the constitution on which an oath is taken that translates into “the core values which are enshrined in the Preamble to Constitution, that is justice, liberty, equality and fraternity”. 

After giving this exemplary message, a few days later, in a speech on army day, General Naravane went out of his way to hail the “abrogation of Article 370 as a historical step” which will “help Jammu & Kashmir integrate with the mainstream”.   Here again, the general has stepped into political waters.  The abrogation of Article 370 is being seen by the people of Jammu & Kashmir and outside as an assault on the secular and federal character of the constitution.  The matter is now before the supreme court which has to declare on its constitutionality and legality. Obviously, the pressure on the leadership from the powers that be is such that they feel compelled to make such public pronouncements. 

January 26 marks the 70 years of the adoption of the Republican Constitution.  Under the constitutional scheme, India is a parliamentary democracy and the armed forces serve under the civilian executive as a professional force committed to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.

Attempts to subvert this constitutional role assigned to the armed forces and politicise it portends danger for the Republic and democracy.  The role of the armed forces should come under the scrutiny of the democratic process in our parliamentary democracy.  The pronouncements on political matters by leaders of the armed forces must stop forthwith. 

(January 22, 2020)