Virtue of reticence: on Bipin Rawat’s comment about illegal immigration in Northeast

Army chief General Bipin Rawat’s comments about an “inversion in demographics” and a “planned migration” from Bangladesh into the Northeast are unusual by any standards. India’s service chiefs have a long and healthy tradition of keeping away from political subjects in their public comments. But at a seminar in Delhi this week, General Rawat strayed into political commentary when he talked about issues of religious identity, demographics, and India’s relations with its neighbours. He said that migration from Bangladesh into India is driven by two factors. The first is the acute pressure on land in Bangladesh. “The other issue,” he said, “is planned immigration which is taking place because of our western neighbour… It is the proxy dimension of warfare.” This strategy, he went on, is supported by “our northern neighbour”. The references were clearly to Pakistan and China. Such departures from a tradition of being reticent, if not totally silent, are rare. But it is exactly this self-restraint that has served both Indian democracy and the military well. India’s success in keeping the Army out of politics, compared to most other countries that gained independence from colonial rule in the mid-20th century, has in fact been the subject of scholarly research.


In turn, the neat separation has allowed the Army to maintain its professionalism and retain public trust even as it is frequently called upon to assist the administration in times of communal strife and subregional insurgencies. This arrangement has also inhibited governments from bidding the Army to do their politically expedient tasks. It is a balance that must hold, and this is why General Rawat’s possibly off-the-cuff observations on foreign policy and domestic politics were unfortunate. There is a risk of hostile rejoinders from India’s regional rivals. It also risks reactions from home, which have already come in the form of a sharp response from the All India United Democratic Front. Its chief Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, who was reacting to General Rawat’s comment that the AIUDF in Assam was growing at a faster clip than the Bharatiya Janata Party did, charged him with straying from his constitutional remit. The head of another political party tweeted that it is not the job of the Army to comment on political matters. This is not the first time that General Rawat’s comments have evoked a response from political quarters. Last month, the Jammu and Kashmir education minister reacted when General Rawat criticised government schools in the State for mounting two maps, “one of India and the other of J&K”. Even if such remarks were made in good faith, the point is that they can result in needless controversies that do nothing to promote the Army’s strong and fully deserving image of an institution that is above politics.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 2:31:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/virtue-of-reticence/article22838739.ece

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