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.
The opposition parties, including the Congress, attacked Gen Rawat, who is due to retire on December 31 as Army Chief, for making remarks on political issues.
"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 live."
Gen Rawat 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.
Since both houses of Parliament approved amendments to the citizenship law earlier this month, protests - sometimes violent - have taken place across the country and casualties have been reported, especially from Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
"What is so complex about leadership, if it is all about leading. Because when you move forward, everybody follows. It is not that simple. It appears simple, but it is a complex phenomenon," Rawat said in his speech.
"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 added.
Rawat's comments evoked sharp response from political leaders and twitterati.
"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 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.