The new Indian Army chief, General MM Naravane’s emphasis on the Constitution is welcome

On Saturday, the new Indian Army chief, General MM Naravane laid out his vision of the role of the forces as well as outlined the challenges the army faces. In itself, this may have passed off as a routine briefing. But the intervention was particular significant because of the broad political context in which it was made, the evolving security landscape, and the change in the national security architecture underway with the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff.

What stood out in General Naravane’s comments was his firm and unequivocal commitment to the Constitution. To be sure, every army chief has worked within the constitutional structure. But at a time when politics is deeply polarised, and there has been concern over the somewhat political remarks made by Naravane’s predecessor, General Bipin Rawat, the chief’s comment are a reminder of the broad principles which govern the Indian Army. His emphasis on the fact that the army fights to preserve values of liberty, equality, fraternity and justice for citizens shows a deep belief in the original vision of the drafters of the Constitution and provides a deeper justification of the army’s mandate. His emphasis on respecting fundamental rights carries meaning, for security compulsions have often been posited against civil liberties — in effect, the chief was suggesting that the motive for the army to provide security was to enable citizens to exercise these rights. His comments also reflects a commitment to the framework of civil-military relations, where the elected government is the final authority.

The other thread of the chief’s remark was on the challenging security situation India faces, on both the China and Pakistan front. But these are not necessarily independent fronts, given the deep nexus between Islamabad and Beijing. By highlighting Siachen as a potentially space where this collusion could happen, he was alerting the country to the sensitivity of one of world’s toughest battle terrain. His emphasis on re-balancing, which meant enhanced preparations across the northern border with China, was based on the recognition that India’s strategic challenge — notwithstanding the emphasis on Pakistan in everyday discourse — perhaps lies elsewhere. The chief also reiterated the Indian Army’s commitment to the broader integration of services, which is the CDS’s remit. Put it all together, and General Naravane came across as a clear, articulate thinker, committed to the Constitution, and also focused on the need to modernise India’s forces and train them with an eye on the evolving security challenges.