What Army Rules say about political comments by army-men

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByMurali Krishnan
Dec 27, 2019 04:32 PM IST

Much of the criticism around Bipin Rawat revolved around whether a serving army chief should wade into politically troubled waters.

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s remarks on Thursday, seen as an indirect criticism of the ongoing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, and which set off a political storm have once again focused attention on what members of the defence forces can say, when it comes to politics, and what they can’t.

File photo of Chief of the Army Staff General Bipin Rawat.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
File photo of Chief of the Army Staff General Bipin Rawat.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

“Leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate direction. We are witnessing in large number of universities and colleges that students are leading masses and crowds to carry out arson and violence in cities and towns. This is not leadership,”, said General Rawat at a health summit in New Delhi. He made no reference to the anti-CAA protests but opposition parties of various hues were quick to condemn him for comments that were seen as political in nature.

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Much of the criticism revolved around whether a serving army chief should wade into politically troubled waters.

“Leadership is knowing the limits of one’s office. It is about understanding the idea of civilian supremacy and preserving the integrity of the institution that you head,” All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi said on Twitter.

But what exactly prohibits army personnel from making politically coloured statements? The answer lies in No. 21 of Army Rules, 1954 (Army Rules).

Rule 21 states that no person who is subject to the Army Act, 1950 shall publish in any form or communicate to the press any matter in relation to a political question or on a service subject without the prior sanction of the Central Government. The rule also prohibits such persons from publishing books, documents, letters or articles containing information on political questions or service subjects without prior sanction.

Further, the rule also prohibits such persons from delivering a lecture, on a matter relating to a political question or on a service subject without government’s prior sanction.

What is noteworthy is that the rule explains the scope of the term “service subject” though it does not offer any similar explanation for the term “political question”.

It is clear that there is enough leeway in the rules for a serving officer to actually touch upon any contemporaneous political subject.

“General Rawat did not refer to Citizenship Amendment Act or any other political event or personality. He was addressing the future citizens of India who are students. There is a righteous duty to guide citizens of India on whom depends the future of the nation”, army officials said.

As per the Army Rules, all persons who are subject to Army Act, 1950 are covered by the Army Rules.

Section 2 of the Army Act provides that officers, junior commissioned officers and warrant officers of the regular Army, persons enrolled under the Army Act, persons belonging to the Indian Reserve Forces, persons belonging to the Indian Supplementary Reserve Forces when called out for service or when carrying out the annual test and officers of the Territorial Army, when doing duty as such officers are subject to Army Act and consequently the Army Rules.

The Army Act and Army Rules lay down the manner in which personnel who are found to be acting contrary to the Rules should be dealt with. Violation of Rule 21 is punishable under Section 63 of the Army Act which prescribes a maximum sentence of seven years of imprisonment if found guilty on court martial.

“Administrative action does lie (against Chief of Army Staff). In extreme cases, action under the Army Act for “conduct unbecoming” or “violation of good order and discipline” under Sections 45 and 63 of the Army Act respectively can be initiated”, a legal expert told HT on condition of anonymity.

General Rawat assumed office as Chief of Army Staff on December 31, 2016 and his tenure comes to an end on December 31 this year. He is widely expected to be named the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

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