Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar has been widely criticized for his remarks.

Parrikar claimed that respect for the armed forces in India has diminished due to a lack of fighting in the past half a century, according to NDTV. His comments come at a sensitive time in India-Pakistan relations.

War Drums Grow Louder As India's Minister Claims Army Losing Respect

Political controversy stoked by comments

“In the past, when there was a letter from a military commanding officer to an IAS officer or any other authority, it received attention of the highest order. Today, that respect has diminished… One reason is that for 40-50 years, we have not fought a war. I am not saying we should go to war. I am saying that because we haven’t fought a war, the importance of the Army in our minds has dwindled,” Mr Parrikar said, during a speech at an event in Jaipur on Sunday.

Members of various opposition groups wasted no time in criticizing Parrikar for his pronouncements. “Ministers in this government say anything and embarrass the nation. We are proud of our Indian Army and they have made us proud every time,” said Congress leader Pramod Tiwari.

A leader of Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal (United) party, KC Tyagi, called it “an anti-national statement by the defence minister.” However the minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party agreed with him on the matter.

“When a defence minister says this, he says it with a lot of experience and great concern. I am sure he made the statement to instill a greater sense of pride for the Army among the people,” said BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao.

India’s relationship with its armed forces in the spotlight

The armed forces have been in the news of late, protesting a reform of the pension system for ex-military personnel. The “One Rank, One Pension” scheme would mean that equal pension would be paid to military personnel who retire at the same rank after the same length of service, and their retirement date would have no importance.

The government was expected to announce the system last month, and ex-military personnel were disappointed when no announcement was made.

Parrikar’s comments could be interpreted as a call to war if taken out of context, a dangerous pronouncement from such a high-ranking minister at a time when India is engaged in an increasingly aggressive war of words with historic enemy Pakistan.

Comments from President Narendra Modi concerning the role of India in the Bangladeshi struggle for independence from Pakistan ignited controversy last week. Tensions were subsequently ratcheted up a notch in the aftermath of a surgical strike against insurgents based in Myanmar, which Indian minister of state for information and broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore said should be a warning to any nation which harbors terrorists. Certain figures in Pakistan took his words as a veiled threat to their country, and promised to defend their sovereignty.

War of words continues

One such figure was former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, who told India that Pakistan would not be bullied. He said that the country’s nuclear weapons were not for “celebratory” occasions.

“We do not want to use nuclear capability but if our existence comes under threat, who do we have these nuclear weapons for? If I say in Chaudhary Shujaat’s style, do we have nukes saved to be used on Shab-e-Baraat?” he said.

Statements such as these do nothing to reduce tensions in the region, and play into the hands of extreme elements in the military and religious establishments. Politicians from both countries should try to dampen the growing sound of war drums before the threat of conflict becomes a reality.