By emphasising on allegiance to the Constitution and human rights, new Army chief General MM Naravane has struck the right chord at a time when there is criticism over attempts to politicise the armed forces. His comments, soon after taking the charge, are of particular significance in the context of polarising politics and the leadership of the armed forces also being dragged into an increasingly divisive debate. Naravane’s predecessor, General Bipin Rawat, had courted controversy by making certain remarks on the ongoing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that were construed to be political in nature. General Naravane has set the record straight by asserting that the Army was committed to protecting the core values of justice, equality and fraternity enshrined in the Preamble. The Army chief’s firm and unequivocal commitment to the Constitution must be seen in the context of the ongoing movement, mostly led by students, focused on protecting the fundamental structure of the Constitution. His emphasis on justice for citizens and fundamental rights shows a deep belief in the original vision of the drafters of the Constitution and provides deeper justification of the Army’s mandate. It also reflects a commitment to the framework of civil-military relations, where the elected government is the final authority. This was in contrast to General Rawat’s politically-loaded observations on the anti-CAA protests. The leaders of armed forces are not supposed to comment on political issues, particularly those that are deeply divisive.
According to the Army Rules, 1954, no officer or jawan shall “deliver a lecture or wireless address on a matter relating to a political question.” But, a few days after making controversial remarks, General Rawat was made India’s first Chief of Defence Staff. The image of the Army as an apolitical institution will be dented if its leaders wade into political waters and start airing their views on sensitive issues that are better left for the political class to sort out. It was improper on his part to be judgmental about the protesters and their leadership. Though he did not name anybody, Rawat’s comments suggested that he was taking potshots at opposition parties for stoking flames. This virtually conforms to the government’s propaganda. Indian Army is known the world over for its professionalism, neutrality and apolitical conduct. People have the highest regard for the armed forces for their valour, dignity and sense of sacrifice. It must be pointed out that Indian military abides by an apolitical ethos, a voluntary restraint and a culture of neutrality. The defenders of our borders must, at any cost, uphold their glorious tradition of staying apolitical. Politicisation of armed forces will lead to dangerous consequences for society, as is evident in neighbouring Pakistan.