Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat’s criticism of people leading protests against the Citizenship Amendment did not go down well with Opposition parties on Thursday, PTI reported. The demonstrations saw some violence in parts of the country, especially Uttar Pradesh and Assam, with the police being accused of using excessive force.

“As we are witnessing in large number of universities and colleges, students the way they are leading masses and crowds to carry out arson and violence in cities and towns,” Rawat said at an event in Delhi earlier in the day. “This is not leadership...leaders are those who lead people in the right direction.”

Congress spokesperson Brijesh Kalappa lashed out at Rawat. “Army chief Bipin Rawat speaking against CAA protests is wholly against constitutional democracy,” he tweeted. “If Army chief is allowed to speak on political issues today, it also permits him to attempt an Army takeover tomorrow!!”

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said he agreed with Rawat, but added that “leaders are not those who allow their followers to indulge in genocide of communal violence”. “Do you agree with me General saheb?” he asked.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi said leadership was 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 added.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury accused Rawat of breaching the limits of his role. Yechury tweeted the formal statement of the party, and said: “The Army chief’s statement underlines as to how the situation has degenerated under the Modi government where the highest officer in uniform can so brazenly breach the limits of his institutional role.”

He wondered whether India was going the Pakistan way of politicising the military. “Such obnoxious interference in matters of democratic struggles from top ranking military professionals is unheard of in history of independent India,” Yechury said. The CPI(M) leader urged Rawat to apologise to the country, and also demanded that the Narendra Modi government censure the Army chief.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in Parliament on December 11, provides citizenship to migrants from six minority religious communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, provided they have lived in India for six years. The cut-off date is December 31, 2014. However, it leaves out Muslims from its scope, leading to allegations that the Act is anti-Muslim.

At least 25 people have been killed during protests across India in the last two weeks, including 18 in Uttar Pradesh itself. Many of those killed allegedly died from firearm injuries – indicating that the police may have shot them dead.