Srinagar/New Delhi, India – India’s newly recruited Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat has courted controversy after he claimed that so-called “deradicalisation” camps are operating in India, drawing a comparison with the internment of Uighurs in China.
“Like what we are seeing in Kashmir … we saw radicalisation happening,” Rawat said addressing the media and foreign delegates in New Delhi last week.
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“There are people who have completely been radicalised. These people need to be taken out separately, possibly taken into some deradicalisation camps. We have deradicalisation camps going on in our country.”
Fear among Kashmiris
Rawat’s comments have caused a wave of fear among Kashmiris who claim that India wishes to do what the Chinese are doing in Xinjiang province. Human rights groups say more than a million Uighurs have been rounded up in internment camps, that Beijing dubs as “re-education camps”, to eradicate so-called religious “extremism”.
I don't see this problem in Kashmir with the prism of radicalisation.
“India should not follow China because India has a claim to constituent democracy,” said Professor Noor Ahmad Baba, a political analyst based in Srinagar, the main city in the Muslim-majority region placed under lockdown for the past five months.
On August 5, New Delhi stripped the region of its autonomy after shutting down its communications. Though mobile phones have largely been revived, the region is still without internet access – the longest internet shutdown in a democracy.
“Kashmir is a political issue, there is nothing like radicalisation. This is not a desirable thing to happen in a democracy. Kashmir is a political problem and needs a political solution,” Baba told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, confirming Rawat’s claims, a senior police official in Kashmir told Al Jazeera that the first “deradicalisation” centre in Kashmir is on the cards.
“The Jammu and Kashmir police department has conceptualised one de-radicalization centre for which funds have been granted by the Ministry of Home Affairs but it is yet to be established,” the official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera without elaborating on the “deradicalisation centre”.
The region’s police chief, Dilbagh Singh, also backed the idea of “deradicalisation” centres in Kashmir. “If any such facility comes up in Kashmir that will be a good sign, it should happen. It’ll definitely help people, especially those who have gone astray.”
Rawat’s controversial statements
But Kashmiri political analyst Zafar Chowdhary disagreed with the “radicalization theory about Kashmir”.
“I don’t see this problem in Kashmir with the prism of radicalization,” he said.
A politicised military is the complete negation of democracy.
“They [young Kashmiris] have been betrayed, cheated a number of times by the political leaders, that is lack of trust in the system which is being portrayed by the army and other people as radicalisation.”
However, this is not the first time that Rawat’s statements have created controversies.
In the past, as chief of the Indian Army, he has been criticised for politicising the military with his statements. Many believe that Rawat’s proximity to the ruling Hindu nationalist government helped him become India’s first-ever chief of defence staff – who will supervise all three wings of the defence forces.
Ever since he took over from chief of army staff in 2016, Rawat had courted several controversies. In 2017, Rawat backed an Indian Army officer who tied a Kashmiri youth to a jeep to prevent stone-pelters from targeting his convoy. He went on to award the officer who is now facing court-martial because of his questionable conduct in another controversy.
According to the Indian Army Rules of 1954, officers are barred from commenting on politics.
The rule states: “No person subject to the Act shall deliver a lecture or wireless address, on a matter relating to 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.”
However, that has not deterred the former army chief, and now the chief of defence staff, from making controversial political statements.
Politicisation of military
“It is the most unfortunate thing that a man of his stature is lowering the stature of the Indian army by making such political statements. In fact, he has been doing this for long which clearly says about his political alignment,” said Ajai Sahni, founding member and executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi.
Armed forces are and should be apolitical institutions but such trends are disturbing and will have long-term consequences.
“Armed forces are and should be apolitical institutions but such trends are disturbing and will have long-term consequences,” he said.
Retired Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, who has been critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government’s move to abrogate Article 370 in Kashmir, voiced his reservation against sending children to “deradicalisation” camps.
“There is no denying that some extremists do try to influence people in Kashmir but it is not politically correct to raise this issue to otherwise Kashmiris. Kids being put up in deradicalisation camps is a horrendous proposition,” he told Al Jazeera.
Kak also fears the increasing “politicisation of military and militarisation of politics”, which, according to him, does not bode well for India’s democracy.
India’s military has traditionally remained neutral, unlike its neighbour Pakistan, where the army wields enormous power over the civilian government.
Gazala Wahab, executive editor of Force, India’s leading magazine on national security, suggested that politicisation of the Indian army has been a “slow and insidious process”.
“Of course, this is extremely worrisome. A politicised military is the complete negation of democracy. In a multi-cultural, multi-religious country like India, a partisan military will be disastrous.”