NEW DELHI: The army chief, General Bipin Rawat, has run into a row over comments made during a speech in New Delhi on Wednesday. The chief of the Assam political party, All India United Democratic Front, Badruddin Ajmal, tweeted on Thursday: “General Bipin Rawat has made a political statement, shocking.”
Ajmal wondered “why is it a concern for the army chief that a political party, based on democratic and secular values is rising faster than the BJP?” He claimed the AIUDF, and parties like AAP, have grown because other political parties have failed to govern.
This correspondent of The New Indian Express was present when General Rawat delivered the concluding remarks at a seminar titled “North East region of India: Bridging gaps and securing borders”. He was speaking after a session on “Security of the Siliguri Corridor” to an audience of mostly military professionals.
“The problem in the north east encompasses issues of identity, development and demography,” said the army chief. “We have to take a holistic look at the region”, he said.
He cited the example of the growth rate of the AIDIUF in the context of security issues surrounding the Siliguri corridor, the ‘chicken neck’ in North Bengal, between mainland India and its North East. He said the vulnerability of the Siliguri Corridor, to the north of which the Indian and Chinese faced-off in Doklam last year, was a fact “but it can be well taken care of”.
“I don’t think you can change the population dynamics now. For example, in Assam, the AIUDF has a faster growth (rate) than even in the Jan Sangh. (The precursor to the BJP). We have to amalgamate. There is more trouble in segregation. We have to understand that Muslims have been in Assam since 1212-1218,”.
The AIUDF is largely supported by Muslims, in the perception of the BJP. The army chief was speaking on historical and geographical fact and statistic.
He also said that “our western neighbour supported by our northern neighbour” (implying Pakistan and China) have a vested interest in making India insecure in the North East.
He said there is a common understanding that insurgency fills in the spaces where development is lacking. But Mizoram, in the North East, was an exception, he said, where insurgency had died despite lack of development. He expected that development would follow in the Siliguri Corridor to the Irrawady River Valley (in Myanmar) with the government seriously implementing an “Act East Policy”.