Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s 21 February 2018 controversial comments involving Bangladesh, Pakistan and China on ‘influx of people from Bangladesh into his country’s northeast region’ bear all the elements to draw flaks from both his country and abroad. In a surprising remark, unbecoming for an in-service military officer, Rawat claimed the infiltration is being carried out as a part of ‘a proxy warfare by Pakistan with support from China.’
In obvious oblique references to rivals Pakistan, India’s western neighbour, and China, India’s northern neighbour, Rawat, who is getting state sponsors for his uncalled for political comment, said “…I think the proxy game is very well played by our western neighbour, … also supported by our northern neighbour to keep the area disturbed.”
Rawat continued saying infiltration from Bangladesh is happening for two reasons and one of them is lebensraum or (lack of) living space: Bangladesh is running short of space as a large part of Bangladesh gets flooded during monsoon. So, infiltration from Bangladesh will continue as the country has got very concentrated area to stay in, the general added.
The other issue is the planned immigration into India’s northeast region that is taking place as a proxy war with the help of Pakistan and supported by China, concluded the general.
Rawat’s comments are grave on many accounts from India’s internal state of politics or democracy to foreign affairs involving key neighbours.
As far as Bangladesh is concerned, the comments by the general surely stand in the way of good neighbourly relations as commoners in Bangladesh will view the pronouncement as an Indian ‘hegemony’, although there has been no official response from Dhaka yet. The Indian external affairs ministry have kept mum so far.
However, Indian State Minister for External Affairs VK Singh has already come in the aid of Rawat. “See, we have a habit of politicising everything. Let the army chief say what he wants to. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. That’s it,” Singh, also a former army chief, told reporters in Mumbai.
Referring to increase in Muslim population in some districts of Assam state, Rawat also dwelled on Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front) in the state, saying its growth has been “faster” than that of the BJP in the 1980s.“There is a party called AIUDF. If you look at it, they have grown in a faster time-frame than the BJP grew over the years. The AIDUF is moving at a faster pace in Assam,” Indian media quoted Rawat as saying.
Formed in 2005 to champion the cause of Muslim community, the AIUDF now has three parliamentarians in national parliament and 13 legislators in the state assembly.
Rawat’s meddling in politics also holds far-reaching implications on India, the world’s largest democracy. India’s seamless and uninterrupted democracy since its independence in 1947 is something that is an example for the South Asian region and the world alike: democracy and sustainable development walk together.
Over the years India has developed and strengthened the capacities of its judiciary, Election Commission, civil bureaucracy, military bureaucracy and the press, which are prerequisites for a functional democracy. India’s election system has never been tainted by controversies so far. There is not an iota of military presence in India’s state power.
Unfortunately, Rawat’s comments have elements to cast a shadow over the tolerant democracy in a country of around 1.3 billion people with distinctively diverse ethnicities, languages and religions. The general’s comments are also the manifestations of the fact that intolerance is brewing in the Indian society since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s rise to power in 2014.
According to India’s scroll.in, Rawat was appointed Army chief in 2016 by superseding two other officers – something that has happened only one other time since 1947.
“After his elevation, Rawat has frequently endorsed the Modi government’s policies in public. He praised the ill-considered decision in 2016 to demonetise 86% of India’s currency. As part of his comments on the AIUDF on Wednesday, he praised the Modi government for “now looking at the North East in [the] correct perspective,” reads an article of the news portal.
The general is already known for crossing his official purview to make comments relating to politics and foreign affairs. In January, Rawat criticised China on the Doklam or Dong Lang crisis, which ultimately earned response from Chinese foreign ministry.
Doklam is a strategically important disputed area in the Himalayas bordering China, Bhutan and India’s Sikkim state. India does not claim Doklam for itself but it stands by ally Bhutan’s concerns.
AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal has already hit back at the general, saying his job is to lead army, not to monitor the growth of a political party. According to Indian media, Ajmal said a party delegation will be sent to meet President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to seek clarifications.
Meanwhile, former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has criticised the remarks and said no army chief should indulge in making comments on political parties. “Since the independence, I’ve never seen an Army Chief making a comment on political parties,” Gogoi was quoted as saying.Gogoi has also put forward a proposal to stop the interference by uniformed men.
“After retirement, no chief or general of Army should be allowed to join politics for five years, they can do so after five years,” Gogoi said.
139-year-old The Hindu newspaper has said the Army chief must exercise restraint and keep away from political statements. The English language daily also said there is a risk of hostile rejoinders from India’s regional rivals.