General Bipin Rawat
Indian Army chief General Bipin RawatPress Information Bureau

When India became independent, the civilian leadership under Jawaharlal Nehru had ensured that the country's army did not ever become a part of the political discourse. When India's first army chief K M Kariappa had publicly criticised the government over India's economic performance, he was reprimanded and told not to give opinions on matters that did not lie within his ambit. Even the commander-in-chief's position was detached from political decision-making and even abolished after independence.

Traditionally, the leadership of the Indian Army was never seen making public appearances and remarks and remained a subject of public adulation for their unflinching commitment to the nation and its people – be in times of external or internal crisis.

But Narendra Modi's times are different, even when it comes to the army. Now, as the army is being hero-worshipped more and more, that institution is increasingly losing its glorious isolation and even coming in close contacts with the political orbit.

The army is losing its glorious isolation tody

Nowadays, the chief of the army is often being seen issuing comments in the media, even calling for press conferences to announce about surgical strikes conducted along the Line of Control as retaliation against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. It's no exaggeration to say that as the Indian democracy has transformed itself from an elitist to a populist one, even a ring-fenced institution like the army is being increasingly politicised. This is not a healthy precedent.

Human shield
A screengrab of the video showing a civilian tied to an army jeep.

Take for instance, the remark by current army chief Bipin Rawat. The man, who is known for talking tough time and again, lauded and even awarded Major Leetul Gogoi for tying a Kashmiri in front of a jeep as a shield against the stone throwers in the boiling state of Jammu and Kashmir even as a probe was on into the incident. Rawat said the "dirty war" in Kashmir had to be fought through "innovative ways" even as the human rights activists condemned Gogoi's act.

Now, the politics has stood divided over Rawat's remark. While Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu supported the army chief's statement tweeting that he was in complete agreement with what he felt, a Left MP lashed out at Rawat asking whether he had any understanding of the Indian society that he was making such remark about "innovativeness".

Political controversy over an army chief's remark is not we see often

How many times have we seen the political getting divided over a remark by the army chief? What was the need for the Union information and broadcasting minister to publicly endorse a remark which in itself was no less controversial? There was no surprise that the Left MP found an opportunity to retaliate at the army chief to score a political point.

Venkaiah Naidu
Venkaiah NaiduIANS

It is true that given the revolution India's media has undergone today, even a Nehru couldn't have done much to isolate the army from the public life and politics.

But to deliberately make use of the army for political gains is a tendency our politicians need to shun.

Venkaiah Naidu contradicted his own home minister

As for the Kashmir problem is concerned, whether it is a dirty war [doubt which war is clean] or not and what sort of "innovation" the forces need to make is something not to be discussed in the public. Worse, a political leader is endorsing the army chief's remarks to gain a 'nationalistic' mileage. By endorsing Rawat's words, Naidu only sent a negative message to the Kashmiris and his action stands in complete contrast to what the home minister of his own government, Rajnath Singh, has said a number of times in the recent past: The Centre will come up with a "permanent solution" on Kashmir.

But none less than the chief of the army, bolstered by the over-activism of the media and the politicians – are doing it with no concern for the probable repercussions. If Kariappa was told not to speak on things that don't matter to him, nobody from the current regime told Rawat not to overstep the limits and set up dangerous precedents for our democracy.