Army chief Bipin Rawat’s remarks about the rise of the All India United Democratic Front and changing demography in the northeast drew a sharp backlash on Thursday from the Assam-based party’s chief Badruddin Ajmal, who called the comments “politically driven and shocking”.
Rawat’s was slammed for his remarks by opposition parties, including the Congress and the Left, but the Bharatiya Janata Party said there was nothing new in what he had said and that the Supreme Court had expressed the same view some time back.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman steered clear of the row over Rawat’s remarks about the rise of the AIUDF and the changing demography in the northeast, saying she would not like to react to it.
“I don’t want to react to anything... Somebody said something, somebody talking about....why should I react?” she told journalists on the sidelines of Uttar Pradesh Investors Summit in Lucknow when she was asked to comment on Rawat’s remarks.
Ajmal, a billionaire perfumer, went ballistic against Rawat, alleging he had overstepped his “constitutional jurisdiction” while making the remarks.
“We respect Rawat as the army chief but the comments made by him on AIUDF is not within his constitutional jurisdiction and we have sought appointment with the President, prime minister and Union home minister to seek clarification,” Ajmal told reporters in Guwahati.
He was responding to Rawat’s statement on Wednesday that AIUDF’s growth has been “faster” than that of the BJP. The army chief was referring to reports of increase in Muslim population in several Assam districts.
Addressing a seminar in New Delhi on Wednesday, the army chief had also said that a “planned” influx of people from Bangladesh into the northeast is taking place as part of proxy warfare by Pakistan with support from China with an aim to keep the area disturbed.
Slamming the “politically driven comments” of Rawat, Ajmal said, “The Constitution has given army chief the responsibility to lead the armed forces for the security of the nation and not to monitor the growth of a political party.”
The army, however, said there was nothing political or religious in what Rawat said.
“There is nothing political or religious in the talk. The Chief of Army Staff just mentioned amalgamation and development (of the region) in the seminar on the Northeast organised at the Defence Research and Development Organisation Bhawan,” said an army source in New Delhi.
Opposition parties attacked Rawat for his comments, with All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi tweeting: “Fundamental question is Indian army and its chief is apolitical my question to Modi government is do they agree with @ADGPI statement if they are silent then it must be said that the particular statement was given at the behest and with the blessings of govt”.
Communist Party of India-Marxist’s Brinda Karat said if the army was justifying Rawat’s comments, it meant that it had the defence minister’s approval.
“There is a deeper angle here of politicising the Indian Army and I think that is dangerous for national interest, and it is definitely outside and against the constitutional framework.
“It is condemnable, and the president should take note of it, and take appropriate measures,” she ssaid.
Congress leader and former Union minister Jitendra Singh said,” He (Rawat) should be more concerned about what Army can do operationally.”
BJP leader and a senior Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, jumped to the defence of Rawat, insisting the army chief said nothing new and that the Supreme Court had expressed the same view in the past.
“It is nothing new. The Supreme Court said Assam is facing external aggression from illegal infiltration from neighbouring country,” he said.
BJP MP Vinay Katiyar lashed out at Ajmal, saying “Inko seedhe Pakistan ya Bangladesh bhej dena chahiye. (He should be sent to Pakistan or Bangladesh right away) They (Muslims) have no right to be here. I have said this before.”
Addressing reporters, Ajmal said the growth of the AIUDF is not abnormal but that of the BJP can be called meteoric as it won more than 60 seats in the last Assembly elections compared to only five in the polls before that.
Photograph: Kamal Kishore/PTI Photo