The Army, India & Democracy

Jawaharlal Nehru – the first Prime Minister of India – once said: “Politics in the Army is a poison. Keep off it.” Nehru used to believe that it would be important for the Army to remain apolitical. Otherwise, democracy would be in a real danger. He also explained why the Army should perform its duty under the elected government and why the Army officers should not have political ambitions. PM Nehru had slammed former Army Chief General KM Cariappa for criticising the government, thus, setting the tone for the government-Army relationship in India.
Interference of the Armed Forces in a political system is not a healthy sign for democracy and neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh are fine examples of this. Democracy in Pakistan and Bangladesh is tired of military coups challenging it many times in the past. The two South Asian nations don’t know how long the democratic system will prevail there. In these two countries, the Army has a tendency to influence the political system and to violate the constitutional norms.
However, the scenario has always been different in India. The foundation of democracy has become stronger in India because of the political and military leaderships, who have worked together to safeguard the democratic structure of the country. The Armed Forces and the democratic system have always been respectful to each other in the South Asian nation. It has been possible for the largest democratic country in the world to overcome great crises because of the Army, which kept itself away from the political power.

General Bipin Rawat

Perhaps, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat fails to realise the essence of Indian democracy. General Rawat recently attributed the rise of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) – a political party – to illegal immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh, thus, triggering a controversy. Immediately after the Army Chief made controversial comments on AIUDF, a member of the Opposition party in the Parliament said: “If illegal migrants are entering from Bangladesh what is the Narendra Modi government doing? The internal security is dealt by Intelligence Branch, police, not military. We have seen the draconian consequences in our neighbouring countries when Army got involved in domestic politics.” He also said: “The fundamental point is that the Indian Army and its chief are meant to be apolitical. My question to the government is if they agree with the Army Chief’s statement. If they are silent, then it must be said that the particular statement was given at the behest and with the blessings of the government.”
General Rawat further explained the increasing popularity of the party in north-eastern Indian province of Assam, its relation with demographic changes in the province and the impact of the AIUDF’s growing popularity on national security. Of course, the Army Chief has the right to analyse the national security system. But (perhaps), it is unethical for an Army Chief to analyse the reason for growing popularity of a party that is formed as per the rules and regulations mentioned in the Constitution, and is recognised by the Election Commission.

General Rawat had made controversial comments in the past. Sometimes, the External Affairs Ministry was in trouble because of his comments. On many occasions, the Home Ministry had to face the heat. This time, he attacked the democratic structure of the country. There is no doubt that General Rawat has crossed the line. But, the point is whether he did so knowingly…. If he made the comment unknowingly, then there are enough reasons to worry about. The Army Chief is a very responsible and important person. If such an important person makes controversial comments, then (it seems) he is not fit for the position. And if he made the comment knowingly, then it is a serious issue. The Army Chief should know that his action is dangerous for the Indian democracy. India should learn a lesson from Pakistan. If Army personnel are allowed to fulfil their (political) ambitions, then democracy will have to suffer.

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