It is not for a serving army chief to comment on political matters. Even if he feels strongly about a situation resulting from bad political management which impinges on national security, he should ideally voice his concerns to the political executive behind closed doors. Admittedly, there have been occasions in the past when incumbent service chiefs have not strictly observed the norm, but the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat seems to be most flagrantly violating the unwritten edict of silence on all matters political.
Day in and day out he has spoken about matters which go far beyond the demands of his office. Institutional norms were yet again disregarded when on Wednesday he blamed the unchecked influx of Bangladeshis in the North East region for the worsening security situation. Now, what he said might not be without a kernel of truth, but he was the wrong person to say it. The general was speaking at a seminar on ‘North East Region of India — Bridging Gaps and Securing Borders’, organised by the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies and Headquarters Integrated Defence of the Ministry of Defence.
He was not hopeful that the hostile population dynamics in the North-East, thanks to an unremitting influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, can now be altered in the country’s favour. It was five districts earlier, now it is eight to nine. Adding that the ‘inversion’ has taken place regardless of the government in power. Had he stopped at that, maybe, it would still have been excusable, but he went on to comment on the changing fortunes of the rival political parties. “There is a party called All India United Democratic Front (of the perfume trader Maulana Badruddin Ajmal). If you look… they have grown in a faster time-frame than the BJP has grown over the years… Finally, what will be the State of Assam, we will have to take a call.” He did add for good measure that now we have to live together but those creating mischief need to be identified.
The Army Chief ascribed the influx from Bangladesh to two reasons, one, the monsoon floods force them to cross over and, two, Pakistan instigates infiltration for creating trouble. “The proxy game is being played very well by our western neighbour, supported also by our northern neighbour,” General Rawat asserted. From the mouth of a politician, the above would have been perfectly normal, though it might have caused the nightly television news warriors to schedule another slanging match between the usual suspects representing rival political groups. From the mouth of a serving army chief, these words are highly objectionable because the institutional ‘lakshman rekhas’ ought not to be breached. We were aghast when a few weeks ago the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court flouted the long-established convention and washed their dirty linen in public. General Rawat should heed the restraint and discipline expected of a serving service chief and firmly seal his lips in public. That is the least he can do to avoid dragging his office into the thicket of party politics.