Indian Army is known the world over for its unflinching professionalism, neutrality and apolitical conduct. People have the highest regard for the armed forces for their valour, dignity and sense of sacrifice. Given this track-record, Army chief General Bipin Rawat’s recent remarks on demographic changes in the Northeast region come across as an aberration. He has clearly crossed the line of control and waded into a political territory by making avoidable remarks on the growing influence of certain parties in the region, particularly in Assam. Rawat’s observations about the rise of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam and the planned influx of people from Bangladesh have triggered a political backlash. Comparing the growth of the Jana Sangh, the predecessor of BJP, and the Assam-based AIUDF, he attributed the sudden popularity to a “population inversion” in the Northeast which could not be changed now. Speaking at a seminar on the Northeast organised at DRDO Bhawan, Rawat suspected that the “planned influx” of people from Bangladesh into the region was part of a proxy war being waged by Pakistan with the support from China. The AIUDF, MIM and other parties have condemned the comments as “politically driven and shocking”. As a serving Army chief, Rawat should have refrained from making public political comments. Elaborating on his point, the Army chief pointed to the fast growth of Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF in Assam as compared with BJP in the 1980s. Whatever may be his actual intentions, the Army chief’s remarks create an impression that he views AIUDF as a Chinese-Pakistani proxy.
The image of the Army as an apolitical institution will be dented if its leaders start commenting on a political party. This would lead to certain parties casting aspersions on the armed forces, something which India can ill-afford. Rawat must strictly maintain Army’s political neutrality. The growth of any legitimate political party, wedded to the Constitution and democracy, should not be of any concern for the Army chief. The suggestion that a regional political party was the beneficiary of illegal immigration further adds to the concerns being raised over the preparation of the National Register of Citizens. It would be befitting his stature if he confines himself to matters that are in the military domain. Of course, the generals must offer their counsel behind closed doors when their opinion is sought by the political leadership but should not make public comments that can be interpreted as meddling in politics. Rawat had earlier courted a controversy by dubbing all Kashmiri protesters as overground agents of terrorists and giving an award to Army Major who tied a Kashmiri youth to his jeep as a human shield.