Opposition parties on Thursday hit out at Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat after he publicly criticised people leading protests over the new citizenship law and demanded an apology from him, saying he "breached the limit" of his institutional role.
Leaders of Opposition parties, activists and military veterans accused Gen Rawat of making political remarks, thereby compromising the long-held convention in the Army of not wading into political matters.
"Army Chief's remark on CAA is highly objectionable, unethical and beyond his remit, he is appeared to be a BJP leader who is going to be promoted or rewarded as cds. Rawat needs to be restrained to maintain the impartiality of our army (sic)," Congress's leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tweeted.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi also took exception to Gen Rawat's remarks, claiming that such comments undermine the government.
Maintaining that Army should not interfere in civilian issues, he said by the yardstick, even participation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the struggle against Emergency as a student would be wrong.
According to the Constitution, the Army should not interfere in civilian issues and the right to protest was a fundamental right, the Hyderabad Lok Sabha member said.
The Left parties also slammed the Army Chief and said as the highest officer in uniform he has "breached the limit" of his institutional role.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist urged the general to apologise to the nation for his "indiscretion" which has extremely adverse ramifications for the constitutional arrangement in the country.
The politburo of the party said Rawat has "directly indulged" in condemning the student protestors who have been opposing the amended citizenship law and the proposed pan-India National Register for Citizens.
"Army Chief's statement underlines as to how the situation has degenerated under the Modi government where the highest officer in uniform can so brazenly breach the limits of his institutional role. It is, therefore, necessary to raise the question as to whether we are going the Pakistan way of politicising the military. Such obnoxious interference in matters of democratic struggles from top ranking military professionals is unheard of in the history of independent India," it said.
CPI general secretary D Raja said Rawat as the head of the Indian Army should not have commented on what was a "political issue".
"He is the chief of the Indian Army and not of any political party. His mandate is to safeguard the borders and not to make such political comments. He has criticised the leadership of the protest, clearly siding with the ruling party," he said.
Rights activist Yogendra Yadav took a dig at Rawat saying, "I agree with him, yes leaders should lead (people) in the appropriate direction. I am absolutely sure, he has the prime minister of this country in mind when talking about that."
At a health summit in the national capital, the Army chief said, "Leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate directions, as we are witnessing in a large number of university and college students, the way they are leading masses of crowds to carry out arson and violence in our cities and towns. This is not leadership."
Not just political leaders and activists, but military veterans also reacted to the Army chief's remarks with Former Navy Chief Admiral L Ramdas saying Gen Rawat was "wrong" in making such remarks as people in the armed forces must follow the decades-old principle of serving the country and not any political force.
"The rule is very clear that we are serving the country and not political forces, and to express any political views as we have heard today are quite a wrong thing for any serving personnel whether he is the top gun or at the bottom rank. It is not proper," Ramdas said.
Section 21 of the Army Act prohibits any army personnel to attend or address any meeting or to take part in any demonstration organised by anybody for any political or other purposes.
It also bars them from communicating to press or to publish any book relating to any political question.
After Rawat's remarks generated a storm, the army issued a clarification, saying the army chief did not refer to the CAA.
"He has not referred to any political event, personality. He was addressing the future citizens of India who are students. (It is his) righteous duty to guide students on whom shall depend the future of the nation. In Kashmir valley, youths were misguided the first, by people whom they trusted as leaders," the Army statement said.
Congress leader Brijesh Kalappa also slammed Gen Rawat for his remarks.
"Army Chief Bipin Rawat speaking against #CAAProtests is wholly against constitutional democracy. If Army Chief is allowed to speak on political issues today, it also permits him to attempt an Army takeover tomorrow!!," he tweeted.
Reacting to Gen Rawat's remarks, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said, "I agree General Saheb but also Leaders are not those who allow their followers to indulge in genocide of communal violence (sic). Do you agree with me General Saheb?"
At the party's press conference here, senior Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken, when asked about the controversy on the statement of the army chief, said Rawat is Army Chief and "we would desist from making any comments on his statement".
K C Tyagi, leader of theJanata Dal-United, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party, also criticised Gen Rawat for making "political comments".