New Army Chief says Constitution prime, ‘can’t err if led by Preamble’

Krishn Kaushik
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General M M Naravane in New Delhi, Saturday. (Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)

On the eve of his first Army Day as Chief of the Army Staff, General M M Naravane swore “allegiance to the Constitution” on Saturday, saying the Army is of the people and for the people. The force fights for the values of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity, and respects the rights of the people, he said.

In his opening remarks at a press conference before Army Day, celebrated on January 15, Naravane said, “be it a jawan and an officer, we take an oath” to follow the Constitution, “and that is what should guide us in all our actions and at all times”. “What it translates into is also the core values which are enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution, that is justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, and that is what we are fighting for when we are deployed on the borders.”

The Army Chief also mentioned fundamental rights “guaranteed to all our citizens”, and said if the Army was guided by them, “we will not go wrong in the discharge of our duties”. “We are an Army of the people, for the people, and whatever we do, will be for them,” the General said.

The Army Chief’s comments come against the backdrop of accusations of politicisation of the force by his predecessor, General Bipin Rawat, now the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). A week before his retirement, Rawat, asked about the protests on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens, said it was not leadership that was being seen in universities and colleges, “the way they are leading masses and crowds to carry out arson and violence”.

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Praising the creation of the CDS post and the Department of Military Affairs as “a game changer”, Naravane said they were looking into all aspects of how these would evolve. “There is no doubt that integration is the key, and that is mentioned in the charter of the CDS... When we go in for joint or integrated theatre commands, we will do so keeping our own requirements and operational realities in mind, and will not blindly copy any existing system or any other army of the world,” he said.

Asked about comments by some ministers that Pakistan Occupied Kashmir would be a part of India, Naravane said if any such orders are received from Parliament, the Army would act on them, noting that there was a parliamentary resolution saying the entire erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was a part of India. “If Parliament wants that the territory be one day ours and if there are orders in this regard, we will definitely act on them,” he said.

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Repeating his remarks from the day he took over as Army Chief, Naravane said that earlier there was a view that the threat was more towards the western front (read Pakistan) than the northern front (China). “Now we think both borders are equally important... It is in that context that the rebalancing is taking place.”

Regarding China, the Army Chief said that after the Wuhan and Chennai meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Premier Xi Jinping, “certain strategic guidelines” are a given. He said most differences at the border are now settled at the lowest levels and not allowed to escalate, which had led to peace on the northern border. “We have had a number of rounds of talks... Maintaining peace and tranquillity on the border only helps... No talks can be successful if bullets are flying.”

Naravane said there would soon be a direct line between the Director General of Military Operations in India and the Western Theatre Command in China, which looks after the India-facing front.

The General, who returned only on Friday from a visit to Siachen, said the glacier was strategically important as it faces both Pakistan and China. “We should not lose sight that it’s one place where collusivity can happen (between China and Pakistan).”

On the threat of a two-front war, Naravane said that in that case, “there will always be a primary front and a secondary front”. He said that there are also Dual Task Formations which can move between the two fronts.

Though the Army is involved in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, Naravane said this was short-term and the Army was prepared for its long-term role of conventional warfare.

He said that of the four studies started by General Rawat to reorganise the Army, two had been completed and are being implemented, and that they expected clearance from the government on Integrated Battle Groups soon. “In this process of integration, we will take everyone along, nobody will be left behind.”

Apart from allegiance to the Constitution, the Army Chief said belief in self and consolidation, along with taking care of the aspirations of its personnel and putting quality over quantity were some other principles by which the Army functions.

In a report from Islamabad, PTI quoted the Pakistan army as saying it was fully prepared to respond to any act of Indian aggression, in response to remarks by General Naravane. “Statements by Indian Chief Of Army Staff... to undertake military action across LOC are routine rhetoric for domestic audiences to get out of ongoing internal turmoil,” Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted.