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Army Chief Bipin Rawat Says Leaders Don't Lead Masses in Arson and Violence, Draws Opposition Ire

File photo of Army Chief Bipin Rawat.

File photo of Army Chief Bipin Rawat.

This is the first time that Rawat, who is set to retire on December 31, has spoken against the nationwide protests against the Citizenship Act.

New Delhi: Army chief Bipin Rawat on Thursday waded into the debate on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), saying “leaders are not those who lead masses in arson and violence”.

Addressing an event in Delhi, Rawat said, “Leadership is all about leading. When you move forward, everybody follows... But leaders are those who lead people in the right direction. Leaders are not those people who lead people in inappropriate directions, as we are witnessing in a large number of university and college students, the way they are leading masses of crowds to carry out arson and violence in our cities and towns. This is not leadership.”

"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," he added.

This is the first time that Rawat, set to retire on December 31, has spoken against the nationwide protests against the CAA.

Rawat is tipped to be India's first Chief of Defence Staff who will be the single-point military adviser to the government on tri-services' matters. In his three-year tenure as Army Chief, he faced allegations of not remaining politically neutral.

Since both houses of Parliament approved amendments to the citizenship law earlier this month, protests — sometimes violent — have taken place across the country and casualties have been reported, especially from Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. About 20 people have died in the demonstrations against the contentious law. Critics of the legislation — which seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who had come to India till December 31, 2014, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan because of religious persecution — call it discriminatory.

"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 said in his speech.

"Even amongst the crowd you find that the leaders emerge. But leaders are those who lead people in the right direction. Leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate directions," he added.

Opposition slams Rawat

Rawat's comments soon drew the ire of the Opposition, with Congress leader Digvijaya Singh saying on Twitter, “I agree General Saheb but also Leaders are not those who allow their followers to indulge in Genocide of Communal Violence. Do you agree with me General Saheb?”

Brijesh Kalappa, a spokesperson of the Congress, said: "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!!"

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi too hit out at Rawat. “Leadership is knowing the limits of one’s office. It is about understanding the idea of civilian supremacy & preserving the integrity of the institution that you head.

Rights activist Yogendra Yadav said he agreed with Rawat's statement, adding, "Yes, leaders should lead (people) in the appropriate direction. I am absolutely sure, he has the prime minister of this country in mind when talking about that."

Yadav said Rawat's comments on politics is a sharp departure from the convention of the Indian Army in the last 70 years. "This used to happen in Pakistan and Bangladesh."

Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury described Rawat's remarks as "unethical" and alleged that he appeared to speak like a BJP leader.

"Army Chief's remark on CAA is highly objectionable, unethical and beyond his remit, he is appeared to be a BJP leader who is going to be promoted or rewarded as CDS. Rawat needs to be restrained to maintain the impartiality of our army (sic)," Chowdhury said in a tweet.

'Breached limit of his role'

The Left parties said as the highest officer in uniform, Rawat has "breached the limit" of his institutional role.

The CPI(M) urged the General to apologise to the nation for his "indiscretion", which has extremely adverse ramifications for the constitutional arrangement in the country.

The party Politburo said Rawat has "directly indulged" in condemning the student protesters who have been opposing the amended citizenship law and the proposed pan-India National Register for Citizens.

"The Army Chief's statement underlines as to how the situation has degenerated under the Modi government where the highest officer in uniform can so brazenly breach the limits of his institutional role. It is, therefore, necessary to raise the question as to whether we are going the Pakistan way of politicising the military. Such obnoxious interference in matters of democratic struggles from top-ranking military professionals is unheard of in the history of independent India," it said.

"We also demand that the government takes note of such a breach and censures the General," the party said.

CPI general secretary D Raja said Rawat, as head of the Indian Army, should not have commented on what was a "political issue".

"He is the army chief of the Indian Army and not of any political party. His mandate is to safeguard the borders and not to make such political comments. He has criticised the leadership of the protest, clearly siding with the ruling party," Raja said.

(With inputs from agencies)
first published:December 26, 2019, 13:26 IST