Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat has found himself in the middle of a political storm after he criticised those involved in violent protests against the amended Citizenship Act.
"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 in Delhi on Thursday.
His comments did not go down well with the opposition parties and twitterati who attacked him for making remarks on political issues.
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"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 rights activist and Swaraj Abhiyan leader 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," said Yadav.
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?"
Gen Rawat, who is due to retire on December 31, 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.
Earlier, addressing the summit, Gen Rawat said a leader is a person who leads people in the correct direction.
"Even amongst the crowd you find that the leaders emerge. But leaders are those who lead people in the right direction. Leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate directions," he said.
India has been witnessing widespread protests ever since the Parliament passed the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill. In Uttar Pradesh, at least 17 pople lost their lives as protests turned violent in several cities.
According to the new legislation, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, but not Muslims, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, till December 31, 2014, facing religious persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
The opposition parties call the law “discriminatory” as Muslims have been excluded from the ambit of the law.