Former Navy Chief Admiral L Ramdas on Thursday termed as "wrong" Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat's remarks against the nationwide protests over the new citizenship law, saying people in the armed forces must follow the decades-old principle of serving the country and not any political forces.
Ramdas said all the three services have an internal code prescribing that they must be neutral and not partisan, adding that these rules have been the bedrock of the armed forces for decades.
"The rule is very clear that we are serving the country and not the 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 told PTI.
Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat on Thursday criticised people leading violent protests over the new citizenship law, saying leadership is not about guiding masses including students to carry out arson and violence, remarks that drew sharp reactions from opposition leaders.
"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," the Army Chief said at a health summit.
He further said, "A leader is one person who leads you in the correct direction. Gives you the right advice and then ensures that you care for the people you lead."
Gen Rawat, who is due to retire on December 31 as Army Chief, is tipped to be India's first Chief of Defence Staff who will be the single-point military adviser to the government on tri-services matters. In his three-year tenure as Army Chief, he faced allegations of not remaining politically neutral.
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 political question.
"We have an internal code which we must follow. It prescribes that we should be neutral and we should not be partisan. And that is how we have been looked at all along these years," said Ramdas.
Rawat's comments evoked sharp response from political leaders.
"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," said Swaraj India leader and rights activist Yogendra Yadav.
He said Gen Rawat's comments on politics is a sharp departure from the convention of the Indian Army in the last 70 years. "This used to happen in Pakistan and Bangladesh."
Congress Spokesperson Brijesh Kalappa too 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.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said leadership is about 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," he said.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh also tweeted, "'Leaders Not Those Who Lead Masses In Arson': Army Chief On Citizenship Protests. I agree General Saheb but also Leaders are not those who allow their followers to indulge in genocide of communal violence. Do you agree with me General Saheb?"
CPIM leader Sitaram Yechuri also slammed Gen Rawat for his comments.
"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," he said.