Did Bipin Rawat violate Army Rules? What does Section 21 of Army Rules 1954 say?


Chief of Army Staff Bipin Rawat on December 26 triggered a controversy by commenting on the ongoing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Rawat had said that “leaders are not those who lead masses in arson and violence”. “Leaders are not those people 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,” said General Rawat. Opposition leaders were quick to condemn Rawat’s statement. Congress leader P Chidambaram and AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi criticised Rawat for making a ‘political’ statement while holding the office of the Army Chief. “You head the Army and mind your business… It is not the business of the Army to tell politicians what we should do, just as it is not our business to tell you how to fight a war,” said Chidambaram. Communist Part of India (CPI) in a statement accused General Rawat of violating Section 21 of the Army Act.

What is Section 21 of Army Rules 1954?

Section 21 of the Army Rules 1954 forbids Army personnel from communicating directly or indirectly to the Press, matters related to politics, without prior sanction from an officer specified by the Central government in this behalf. No person subject to the Act shall –
  • publish in any form whatever or communicate directly or indirectly to the Press any matter in relation to a political question or on a service subject or containing any service information, or publish or cause to be published any book or letter or article or other document on such question or matter or containing such information without the prior sanction of the Central Government, or any officer specified by the Central Government in this behalf;
  • or, deliver a lecture or wireless address, on a matter relating to a political question or on a service subject or containing any information or views on any service subject without the prior sanction of the Central Government or any officer specified by the Central Government in this behalf

Reactions from former Army Chief and Navy Chief

As the Citizenship Act and the ongoing protests are clearly political matters, it seems the Army Chief has violated Section 21 of the Army Act by commenting on the same publicly without prior permission. However, Union minister and former Army Chief General (retd) VK Singh came in defence of Rawat, and asked the opposition to not politicise everything. "In our great country, the opposition can turn anything into a controversy. Ideal would have been to see the statement into context in which Army Chief has said a particular thing. Ask him what he meant. If I tell students don't unnecessarily damage property, is it politics? Search your heart and ask this question,” said Singh to news agency ANI. However, former Navy Chief Admiral L Ramdas had said that Rawat was "wrong" as rules prohibits serving personnel from expressing political views. "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 had told news agency Press Trust of India. Rawat will be retiring as the Chief of Army Staff on December 31, 2019. He is touted to be the first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a recently created post that will act as the chief of the tri-services of the Indian Armed Forces.