Army chief Bipin Rawat’s remark stokes political row
Army chief General Bipin Rawat has sparked a political row with his remarks that the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has been growing faster than the BJP in Assam because of the support of Muslims, with Pakistan and China pushing Bangladeshi migrants into the North-east part of the country to destabilise India.
The BJP said the army chief has to be saluted for his comment, but the Congress attacked the government, saying it was trying to divert attention from the fraud at Punjab national Bank.
AIUDF chief, Badruddin Ajmal, tweeted: “By making such a statement, the army chief has indulged in politics which is against the constitutional mandate given to him.” Later, he told reporters in Guwahati, “We respect General Rawat a lot but I think he has been misinformed and misguided. If the Army chief is saying demographic change is happening in Assam, it is the government’s job to check it. We are the only party which said, `Shoot anyone who infiltrates our borders’.”
Infiltration from Bangladesh, and the possible change to Assam’s demography, led to a violent agitation in the state between 1979 and 1985. It ended with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.
For the first time since 1951, the state government is updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to weed out illegal immigrants.
Ajmal formed the AIUDF in 2005 to champion the cause of the Muslim community. The party currently has three MPs in the Lok Sabha and 13 legislators in Assam.
He clarified that his party believed in inclusiveness. “People say we are a Muslim party, which is false. We have always given 20-25 seats to our Hindu brothers in all elections. We all are Indians,” Ajmal said.
BJP Spokesman Sambit Patra said on TV that the army chief was commenting on an “important aspect of national security”. It is only natural that the “socio-political, demographic, cultural aspects should be discussed,” he added. “In fact, the army chief should be saluted for his talk.”
Other BJP leaders found the comments about illegal immigration from Bangladesh in sync with their political and ideological standing.
Two senior BJP office bearers, who asked not to be identified, said Rawat merely repeated the “known fact” about the threat illegal immigration posed to India’s security in the northeast.
“What’s wrong with what he has he said?” said one of the two leaders. “Even we feel, and have reiterated on several occasions, that demographic profile of the northeast has changed significantly because of illegal immigration.”
He said the RSS, too, had in 2015 passed a resolution on India’s changing demography in which it said “the religious imbalance of population in the north-eastern states has assumed serious proportions”.
The other BJP leader said his party’s growing influence in the northeast will lead to the rise of outfits such as the AIUDF in opposition.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad refused a direct comment on the army chief’s remarks. “I would simply say that in the coming days you will get to hear many outrageous things. BJP will point fingers on many leaders, many parties in order to divert the attention from the PNB fraud. So the BJP ministers - seniors and juniors – and spokespersons will move heaven and earth to divert the attention of the people.”
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief, Asaduddin Owaisi, was critical of General Rawat. On Twitter, he said that it was neither the Army Chief’s job to interfere in political matters nor to comment on the rise of a political party.