Army chief's comments on the All India United Democratic Front were uncalled for

by Vivashwan Singh

Mainstream media very conveniently skips the horrifying accounts of deprivation, marginalisation and subjugation of Assam’s Bengal-origin Muslims. Despite having legitimate documents of land purchase and living in these areas for decades, they are vilified as illegal immigrants. The simmering discontent within the Muslim community over their witch hunt was tapped by the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), brought into national focus this week after Indian Army chief general Bipin Rawat linked the party’s growth with the influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants.

Rawat stated that AIUDF was growing at a much faster pace than BJP. It is important to mention here that while the Indian Army chief didn’t shy away from commenting on a Muslim political party, he was silent when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat insulted the Indian Army with his claim that his Hindutva outfit could ready an army in just three days.

It must be emphasised Indian Army is not a political force and does not play any part in the administration of the nation.

The chief of army staff indulging in adverse comments about a political outfit and the foreign policy aims of India’s neighbours is unfortunate.

Yet, this is not an isolated incident since it is part of a larger trend of the politicisation of the Indian Army. India’s military policy has drastically changed under the leadership of General Bipin Rawat, Narendra Modi and his national security adviser, Ajit Doval.

It must be emphasised Indian Army is not a political force and does not play any part in the administration of the nation.

Since his appointment, Bipin Rawat, with his unsavoury comments, has often crossed the line. In January, Rawat attacked China on the Doklam crisis, calling for a multi-pronged approach, including diplomatic, military and partnerships with other countries in the region, to deal with Beijing. Then he waded into choppy waters by arguing that India is ready to call Pakistan’s nuclear “bluff”. Such issues regarding defence and foreign policies should be the domain of the respective ministries and not the army chief.

Power corridors have, for decades, been rife with rumours that the politician-army nexus has, to some degree, weakened the Army general’s professionalism and apolitical stature. When AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi pointed that five out of the seven people killed in a recent terror attack in Kashmir were Muslim soldiers, Indian Army itself jumped into the fiasco to rebut Owaisi, arguing that he was trying to “communalise martyrs” instead of letting politicians respond to his allegations.

In the short run, BJP and Modi might succeed electorally by actively using the armed forces to promote their political agenda. But this trend poses a serious survival crisis for India’s risky democratic social fabric. Masses have been led to believe that those being sceptical of the government’s policies are traitors.

In the latest instance, facts suggest Rawat’s allegations are unfounded. It must be noted that the party had given 40 per cent tickets to non-Muslims candidates in Assembly election 2011. Among the winners in Assembly election 2011, there were 16 Muslims, two non-Muslims from SC and ST backgrounds and one female candidate. Thus, a social engineering with backward communities yielded good results for AIUDF.

The vote share of AIUDF in Lok Sabha elections dipped from 16 per cent in 2009 to 14.8 per cent in 2014. It also witnessed marginal increase in vote share during the Assembly elections — from 12.5 per cent in 2011 to 13 per cent in 2016. On the other hand, the vote share of BJP in 2011 was 11.4 percent and it reached 29.5 per cent in 2016. Furthermore, BJP’s vote share went above 53 per cent in the parliamentary by-polls held same year. Statistics prove that the remarks of the army general are illogical.

‘Nationalism versus Muslims' Is Dangerous

Hindu nationalist political parties often complain that Muslims should be brought into the “mainstream”, but when AIUDF wins parliamentary and Assembly elections and strengthens democracy, a baseless allegation is made against the community and the party. Rawat’s assertions have , under the Narendra Modi government, there is serious trepidation that the Army is being drawn into the murky waters of the nation’s politics.

Its One Rank, One Pension policy has divided the nation’s Army community. It has not just selected a very controversial former army chief General VK Singh in his cabinet of ministers, but also embarrassed two outstanding Army officers, who were superseded to appoint General Bipin Rawat. The Army chief must not forget that he is a role model. Soldiers look up to this chief as an authority who would do his best for their betterment by interacting with the government in power. For them, he’s no less than a demigod. His post is unlike that of politicians in our country, who are generally considered unreliable individuals interested only in capturing power and winning elections through any means.

Singh’s support and participation in Army-related matters, including the OROP agitation, has been precious little. Since it was the Army that enabled him to rise to his present post, he should have refrained from making adverse comments, let alone criticise protesters. By flirting with politics, the chief has let down the prestige of the position he holds and joined the ranks of those with whom the Army maintains distance. If this becomes a benchmark, every future Army chief could begin contemplating a political career while in service and openly support the party he is likely to join while he is the highest authority of the military.

This would imply the complete politicisation of the Army right from the top, signalling the end of a glorious apolitical service.