Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest rally against CAA in Bengaluru on Thursday. Reuters
Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat on Thursday drew fire over his politically-topped remarks slamming protests raging across the country against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Rawat, who is seen as emerging India’s first chief of defence forces after his retirement on Dec.31, had commented at a Delhi event that leaders emerge from crowds but are not those who “lead people in inappropriate directions.”
He also said: “’The citizenship Amendment Bill was passed despite reservations from a couple of northeastern states. It would not be hard to guess that some hard decisions on left-wing extremism may be on the anvil after this.”
“Leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate direction,” he said. “We are witnessing in large number of universities and colleges that students are leading masses and crowds to carry out arson and violence in cities and towns. This is not leadership.”
“What is so complex about leadership, if it is all about leading. Because when you move forward, everybody follows. It is not that simple. It appears simple, but it is a complex phenomenon.”
Rawat went on to say, “A leader is one person who leads you in the correct direction. Gives you the right advice and then ensures that you care for the people you live.”
The protests have resulted in the death of at least 25 people, destruction of property and clashes between protesters and the police.
In a swift reaction, Congress Spokesperson Brijesh Kalappa slammed Rawat for his remarks. “Army Chief Bipin Rawat speaking against #CAAProtests is wholly against constitutional democracy. If Army Chief is allowed to speak on political issues today, it also permits him to attempt an Army takeover tomorrow!!,” he tweeted.
Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Digvijaya Singh said, “I agree General Saheb but also leaders are not those who allow their followers to indulge in genocide and communal violence. Do you agree with me General Saheb?”
Congress’s National Media Panelist Shama Mohamed tweeted: “One of the reasons India’s Army is highly respected around the world is because it is apolitical. Such political comments are unbecoming of an Army Chief. The political neutrality of the Indian Army shouldn’t be compromised under any circumstances!”
Lok Sabha member and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi took a dig at the Army chief saying, “leadership is knowing the limits of one’s office.
It is about understanding the idea of civilian supremacy and preserving the integrity of the institution that you head.”
Owaisi said all have the right to protest and the Army is unnecessarily interfering in the civilian affairs. “Everyone has the right to protest. Even the Prime Minister claims he protested during the emergency.
“If there is violence during the protest, there is police to control it. Why is the India Army interfering in civilian matter,” he asked. He alleged that by giving such kinds of statements, the Army chief is undermining Modi’s government.
Rawat’s term as Army chief ends on December 31 but the government is repoerted to be interested to name the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) before that. The CDS will head the department of military powers in the defence ministry. Rawat is widely believed to be the front-runner for the post.
Union Home Minister and BJP President Amit Shah targeted the opposition on Thursday over the anti-CAA violence in the capital as well as for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, just ahead of the crucial Delhi Assembly election next year.
By identifying these two issues, Shah trained his guns both on the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress - two parties that stand in the BJP’s way in the poll fight for the national capital.
“Recently, opposition politicians under the leadership of Congress spread rumours about the Citizenship Amendment Act. People came out on the roads and disturbed the peace and calm of Delhi. These politicians disturbed the peace of Delhi,” said Shah. Without naming anyone, Shah was referring to Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi’s sit-in at India Gate against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act.
He also raked up the anti-Sikh pogrom allegedly spearheaded by senior Congress leaders in the aftermath of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The issue still finds resonance in Delhi, particularly amid a large chunk of Sikh voters.