Monday, 30th October 2017

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Army and politics

Is there an urgency to adhere to the ruling culture of muscular aggression?

  • Published 15.01.20, 1:31 AM
  • Updated 15.01.20, 1:31 AM
  • a min read
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Should not sensitive issues related to defence strategy be discussed behind closed doors? Image used for representational purpose. Shutterstock

A change in baton can, at times, raise the hope of a change in vision. During the stint of the previous army chief — he is now India’s chief of defence staff — there was legitimate concern that the border between politics and the valiant armed forces was about to be breached. The dubious credit for that must go to Bipin Rawat, who was in the habit of making periodic, gratuitous comments. Mr Rawat’s successor, M.M. Naravane, has spoken as well, on the occasion of his maiden media conference. Even though generals are expected to be silent sentinels, Mr Naravane has set a refreshing, and important, example through his remarks at a time when India is experiencing an unprecedented orchestrated assault on the spirit of the Constitution. Expanding on the idea of responsibility,

Mr Naravane has reminded citizens that the army, one of the best examples of an inclusive institution, is tasked with not only protecting national borders but also securing for the people the core values of the Constitution. Mr Naravane alluded to the principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, values that are consistent with the character of India’s constitutional democracy. His point about fundamental rights is well taken, especially in the light of his predecessor’s acerbic comments on the countrywide agitation of students against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, a controversial legislation that seeks to put citizenship to a religious test in contravention to constitutional provisions. India’s army chief firmly believes that his forces would not make errors while discharging their duties if they were to honour the fundamental rights of the people. This is a vital lesson for the armed forces operating in restive areas where allegations of excesses committed by securitymen are not uncommon. There is, in fact, a case for Mr Naravane to make the army’s protocol of punishing those guilty of such transgressions transparent. This would go a long way in reiterating the army’s commitment to the principle of accountability.

Strangely, Mr Naravane also stated that the army, if ordered by Parliament, could take control of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The need for such a statement is mysterious. Does it reflect an urgency to adhere to the culture of muscular aggression that India’s current rulers admire so much? Should not sensitive issues related to defence strategy — surely Mr Naravane will agree — be discussed behind closed doors?