NEW DELHI: Outgoing Army Chief General Bipin Rawat sparked a controversy on Friday when, alluding to the protests against the Citizen (Amendment) Act, he said those who lead the “masses and crowds to carry out arson and violence in cities and towns” were not true leaders.
At a function in Delhi, General Rawat said: “Leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate directions. As we are witnessing in the large number of universities and college students the way they are leading masses and crowds to carry out arson and violence in cities and towns. This is not leadership.”
His comments were immediately decried by retired servicemen and Opposition leaders for wading into a political controversy, which is barred under the Army Act, 1954. In their view, the defence services should remain apolitical and serving personnel are expected to not speak out of turn.
Former Navy Chief Admiral L Ramdas said General Rawat’s statements blur the lines between politicians and military commanders.
“What will be the difference between us and the politicians? No military commander should say anything to do with events, policies and matters relating to politics,” he said.
For former Army Commander Lt Gen HS Panag (Retired), the chief’s statements had hurt the neutrality of the Army.
“On the surface it can be claimed that he was talking about leadership. But, the implied meaning is very clear. It is a statement that doesn’t behove of a serving Army personnel,” Gen Panag said.
He said the Army had always kept itself neutral.
It only performed non-military duties when it was called upon by the civilian administration to deal with emergency situations such as riot control or assistance during natural calamities.
Commenting on a political issue violated Section 21 of the Army Act (see box), he added.
Another retired General defended the Army chief but criticised the timing.
“He was talking about leadership and brought out the traits of a good leader. He was talking about leading by example and showing care,” he said.
“The only problem is the timing (of the comments). In fact, if he had said it some other day it would have been seen positively,” the retired Army officer observed.
Opposition hits out at General Rawat
The Opposition hit out at General Rawat.
“Since when have army chiefs started commenting about internal affairs? It undermines civil-military relations whose cornerstone is that (the) armed forces neither comment nor interfere in domestic politics. This has been our singular success going back to 1947,” Congress leader Manish Tewari tweeted.
AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi said: “Leadership is knowing the limits of one’s office. It’s about understanding the idea of civilian supremacy.”
The CPI-M asked Rawat to apologise for his “indiscretion” saying his statement reflected how the situation has degenerated under the Modi government “where the highest officer in uniform can so brazenly breach the limits of his institutional role”.
What the army Act says
21. Communications to the Press, Lectures, etc. No person subject to the (Army) Act shall publish in any form whatever or communicate directly or indirectly to the Press any matter in relation to a political question or on a service subject or containing any service information, or publish or cause to be published any book or letter or article or other document on such question or matter or containing such information without the prior sanction of the Central Government, or any officer specified by the Central Government in this behalf; or deliver a lecture or wireless address, on a matter relating to a political question or on a service subject or containing any information or views on any service subject without the prior sanction of the Central Government or any officer specified by the Central Government in this behalf.