Army chief General Bipin Rawat on Thursday found himself in the midst of a massive row after he publicly criticised people leading protests over the new citizenship law, saying leadership is not about guiding masses to carry out arson and violence across the country.
His comments evoked sharp reactions from Opposition leaders, activists and military veterans who accused him of making political remarks, thereby compromising the long-held convention in the army of not wading into political matters.
From army veterans to politicians, several people observed that Rawat's comments were arguable in violation of the Section 21 of Army Rules, 1954.
The Indian Army is a volunteer force which is expected to maintain an apolitical posture and emphasise professionalism. Section 21 of the Army Act has the power to alter fundamental rights of the citizens enrolling with the armed forces, even though they are otherwise guaranteed under the Constitution.
It prohibits any army personnel from attending or addressing any meeting or taking part in any demonstration organised by anybody for any political or other purposes. It also bars them from communicating to press or to publishing any book relating to any political question.
However, legally, there are some loopholes in the service rules too.
Firstly, the law states that the aforementioned can be done only with prior sanction of Central government, and in Rawat's case it is not clear whether he was authorised by the Centre to make those remarks on student protests.
Secondly, even under the assumption that he did not have prior sanction to comment on the topical issue, the law leaves a loophole. As a legal journalist pointed out on Twitter, while the term "service subject" has been explained in Rule 21 itself, the scope of the term "political question" has been left open ended. Hence, the person under scrutiny can take liberties in contextualising the political scope of their comments.
Meanwhile, after Rawat's remarks generated a storm, the army issued a clarification, saying the army chief did not refer to the CAA.
"He has not referred to any political event, personality. He was addressing the future citizens of India who are students. (It is his) righteous duty to guide students on whom shall depend the future of the nation. In the Kashmir Valley, youths were misguided the first, by people whom they trusted as leaders," the Army statement said.
Rawat, while addressing a health health summit in New Delhi said, "Leaders are not those 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 for," he added.
Rawat, who is due to retire on 31 December as army chief, 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 has faced allegations of not remaining politically neutral.
Former navy chief Admiral L Ramdas said Rawat was "wrong" in making such remarks as people in the armed forces must follow the decades-old principle of serving the country and not any political force.
"The rule is very clear that we are serving the country and not political forces, and to express any political views as we have heard today are quite a wrong thing for any serving personnel whether he is the top gun or at the bottom rank. It is not proper," Ramdas told PTI.
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Updated Date: Dec 27, 2019 21:48:11 IST