Wading into political territory

Unlike Pakistan where military ruled for nearly thirty years of its existence as a nation state, India has consolidated its tryst with democracy in the past seven decade. Military as an institution has remained apolitical and has not interfered in the system of governance or state affairs. The Generals in India have perhaps developed strong immunity against all-salivating inducements of power. Even during the emergency in seventies they shrugged off the opportunity that came tempting. They stuck to their constitutional obligations. When the powerful and charismatic prime minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, realized that the emergency she imposed was losing its edge, she, reportedly, approached the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raina for help. General in angry demeanor refused point blank. He reminded her that the armed forces were meant to ‘support the constitution, not supplant it’.

But many people in India feel—rather are worried– that now there is a growing assertiveness on part of high ups in army to extend their domain in areas beyond their constitutional mandate. The latest speech (21 February) of the army chief General Bipin Rawat in a seminar on North -East in Delhi has , unfortunately, strengthened the impression. The army chief hinted at a possible link between the expansion of AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front) in Assam to a ‘planed immigration’ taking place because of ‘ proxy war’ by Pakistan and China (he referred as ‘western neighbor’ and ‘northern neighbor’). He said ‘..they will always try and ensure that this area is taken over through playing the proxy dimension of warfare.

You don’t have to confront a strong nation through conventional operations, so you play a proxy game. We will continue to see some migration happening. The solution lies in identifying the problem and holistically looking at it…. I don’t think you can change the population dynamics of the area( the North-East, particularly Assam). If it was five districts to eight to nine, that inversion( the demographic change through Muslim migrants entering the state from Bangladesh) has taken place, whichever be the government… there is a party called AIUDF. If you look at, they have grown in a faster time frame than the BJP grew over the years. When we talk of Jan Sangh, with two members of parliament and where they have reached, the AIUDF is moving at a faster pace in the state of Assam. Finally, what will be the state of Assam, we have to take a call’.

The statement was, to say the least, unbecoming of the General holding highest military position. It suited the leader of a political party during a run-up to assembly elections questioning its opponent’s ‘faster pace’ of growth in a short span of time. But surely not the head of (what is repeatedly hailed as) ‘the secular, apolitical’ forces. The speech has raised, as expected, hackles of displeasure. The critics say that it is not his job to comment on the rise of a political party that election commission recognizes as a bona fide democratic party and constitution allows her to seek mandate from the electorate. And in democracies army is bound to work under elected leadership, not display machismo in diarchy. The AIUDF, which has three Lok Sabha MPs and 13 MLAs in the Assam assembly, strongly objected to the ‘shocking’ remarks. Its chief Badrudin Ajmal asked ‘ why the heavens are falling over the electoral success of a secular democratic party’. He said ‘ Why is it a concern for the army chief that a political party, based on democratic and secular values, is rising faster than the BJP? Alternative parties like AIUDF and AAP have grown because of the mis-governance of big parties. Whatever he has said is a violation of his constitutional mandate. I see nothing but politics in his statement’.

Rawat’s stating that it was mainstream India’s need to ‘ amalgamate’ the people of the region with it by teaching Hindi ( while referring and appreciating to RSS –run social and education programmes in Hindi in Arunachal Pradesh) also was not received well by the people of the region who are very sensitive about their cultural and linguistic identity. Akhil Gogoi, a well-known political activist from Assam reacted sharply and said: ‘Nowhere in the constitution it is written that Hindi is the national language. All languages are equal and yet he is proposing the use of Hindi to Indianise us instead of respecting the diversity of the country enshrined in the constitution. This is nothing but pandering to the RSS—BJP’s idea of one language, one tax, one economy, one culture. It is particularly unfortunate because it is coming from a person who is supposed to be apolitical’.

North-East observers, disagreeing the General, say that ‘ undocumented immigration’ from Bangladesh has stopped as the ‘ human development indicators there are now better than that of India’. If, for the sake of argument, illegal immigrants enter India, it is not because of collaboration of Badrudin Ajmal and his distributing alms for them. You have your own BSF and other personnel to man the border.

General’s comments, we are constrained to say, has badly undermined his stature. He should have measured his words in manner his professional integrity demands. After all, he leads Indian army, not the army of a particular community.