Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat waded into a controversy on Thursday with his remarks that leadership is not about leading people — including students in universities and colleges — in the wrong direction, inviting criticism from the opposition that he had overstepped his limits as a serving officer.
“Leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate directions, as we are witnessing in a large number of university and college students, the way they are leading masses of crowds to carry out arson and violence in our cities and towns. This is not leadership,” Gen Rawat said.
He is tipped to take over as the country’s first-ever chief of defence staff after completing his three-year tenure as Army chief on December 31. A senior officer at Army Headquarters later clarified that Gen Rawat had basically talked about “leadership qualities” in his speech.
“There were no political statements. He did not mention either the CAA or the National Register of Citizens. He just expressed his worry about the law-andorder situation, which impacts overall national security,” he added.
But the reference — though Gen Rawat did not mention the Citizenship (Amendment) Act — was read in the context of the anti-CAA protests and violence in campuses like Jamia and AMU and saw CPM demanding that the general apologise for his “indiscretion” which had “adverse ramifications for the constitutional arrangement in the country”.
Some serving and retired officers were also critical of Rawat’s comments. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said, “The Army chief ’s statement underlines as to how the situation has degenerated under the Modi government.”
He said the situation showed how an officer in uniform had brazenly breached the limits of his institutional role. Telangana Congress president and Lok SabhaMP Uttam Reddy said, “General Rawat, please don’t forget the code of conduct for serving military officers… A serving Army chief publicly trying to please political masters of the day on an extremely sensitive public issue by criticising opposition leaders! How unbecoming!” Yechury said that the Indian armed forces are “going the Pakistan way of politicising the military” and said that the Army chief ’s comments were an “obnoxious interference in matters of democratic struggles. Former BJP member Yashwant Sinha also took exception to Rawat’s utterances. “…Army Chief Bipin Rawat wading into the current political controversy is a new low. Must be nipped in the bud,” he said.
Swaraj India member and rights activist Yogendra Yadav said, “I agree with him (Gen Rawat). Yes, leaders should lead (people) in the appropriate direction. I am absolutely sure he has the PM of this country in mind when talking about that.”
Serving and retired officers, who stressed that the armed forces are justifiably proud of their apolitical and secular ethos, maintained that Gen Rawat had “crossed the line yet again” by taking a public stand against the ongoing anti-CAA protests.