The remarks made by the outgoing Army Chief, as reported, have generated a very important and necessary debate and discussion all over the country.
The chief appears to have singled out and condemned the student fraternity of this nation for allegedly leading thousands on the path of “arson and violence”. These young people are the potential leaders of tomorrow, and women have taken a perceptible leading role among them.
To the best of my knowledge, these young men and women, cutting across all social and cultural denominations, seem to have shown courage, taken initiative and shouldered the responsibility for their stated peaceful expression of dissent on current policy issues. If anything, I have been both moved and excited to see this kind of pan-India display.
My view on the subject of the Army Chief’s statement have been expressed in some interviews both on NDTV channel and PTI since yesterday.
I do believe that during our seventy plus years as a democracy, the Armed Forces have always respected civil [political] authority over the military.
The Service Chiefs are responsible for the professional efficiency of their respective forces and for the defence of the nation against external threats. In the normal course of things, it is primarily the responsibility of non-military security agencies such as the police, and other forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), and so on, to ensure and maintain internal law and order.
But, over time, we have witnessed the constant politicisation of the police and of the other cadres mentioned above. It seems that the Armed Forces have, in recent years, either been led or misled into compromising their traditional, and time-honoured role of remaining apolitical.
Therefore, this statement made by the outgoing Chief of the Army Staff is unfortunate and should have been avoided, because it conveys that the Armed Forces—in this case, the Army—is acting politically and is seen to be taking sides in favour of the regime.
With the recent decision to constitute a position of Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), where all three services would work more closely as a team, such a development is not healthy.
The author served as Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy. The views are personal.