That the Indian Army has been the most disciplined institution in the country, dutifully following the civilian governments since independence in 1947, is something that Indian citizens feel to be secured.
At least, communal elements failed to make inroads into the Indian Army until the Narendra Modi-led BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government took over in 2014, and this got more into the news when Lieutenant-General Bipin Rawat, superseding two senior officers, assumed the office of Chief of Army Staff on December 31, 2016.
Time and again, General Rawat has indulged in political discourse. Speaking at a seminar on “North East Region of India – Bridging Gaps and Securing Borders” organized by the Center for Joint Warfare Studies, he created a political storm by pointing out the population dynamics of the northeastern states and fast pace of growth of Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam state.
The message was loud and clear: The growth of the Muslim population in northeastern states and political space for a bearded Muslim leader is a matter of concern for Rawat. This is gross communalism rather than valor on the battlefield.
His comparison of the AIUDF and the BJP is more of a communal complex than a security concern, albeit the former is limited to Assam state only. Such political rhetoric is best suited to a diehard leader of the BJP or RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), not the chief of a prestigious army.
In the already supercharged political atmosphere of India, controversial statements by Rawat can influence general opinion across the country that Modi’s call for sabka saath, sabka vikas (collective efforts, inclusive growth) is as hollow on the political front as in other institutions or the Muslim-mukt (Muslim-free India) rhetoric of right-wing leaders.
Remember Rawat’s praise of Major Leetul Gogoi, who had tied a Kashmiri to an army jeep and used him as a “human shield” from stone pelters. Rather than criticizing a gross violation of human rights, he termed the use of a Kashmiri man as a human shield as an “innovation” to fight a dirty war.
Even while defending his armed forces, Rawat “is talking like a politician,” observed the Hindustan Times. About the security challenges in Jammu and Kashmir he said, “In fact, I wish these people, instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I [want to do].” Clearly, General Rawat aims to kill all protesters if they are armed.
Echoing Adolf Hitler, Rawat announced that “adversaries must be afraid of you and at the same time your people must be afraid of you. If people in any country lose fear of the army, then the country is doomed.” This goes exactly with the language of Hindutva rhetoric under the garb of hyper-nationalism, a current trend taking shape in most parts of the world. It is more of a psychological war on Muslims, especially those in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast.
It is not just at home that Rawat’s views on bilateral relations have ruffled feathers. His comment that Doklam was a disputed territory between Bhutan and China drew criticism.
Hitting out at Rawat for his comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, “Recently, two sides enhanced dialogue on consultations, and bilateral relations have shown sound momentum of improvement and development. Under such background, the unconstructive remarks by Indian senior officials do not conform to the efforts made by the two sides to improve and develop bilateral relations.”
Never before have India’s army chiefs had so much fascination with media, speeches at public platforms and statements meant for politicians in a democratic India. The controversial statements by General Rawat actually suit the BJP’s political approach, but undermine the army’s credibility. Many retired army generals, either as leaders of the BJP or employed as “security experts” in research organizations patronized and funded by the RSS, propagate Hindutva ideology.