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A Dangerous Move: Muslim Headcount In Armed Forces, by B.K. Mathur,20 February 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 20 February 2006

A Dangerous Move

Muslim Headcount in armed forces

by B.K. Mathur

An angry retired Major-General participates in a protest march against the Government move to collect data on the number of Muslims in India’s armed forces.  Another former two Star General, now in politics, reacts sharply: there is too much meddling in the forces – and the military ethos.  A third one, a retired KCO (King’s Commissioned Officer) of the British Indian Army yells in typical military style: “dismiss” (scrap) the committee which has asked for the Muslim headcount in the armed forces.  I have commanded “general regiments” during my service and never heard of such a census.”

These reactions and many more of senior retired and serving Officers of the armed forces on the move came to light a few days ago reflect the mood in the three defence Services.  The controversial Muslim-specific survey was ordered by the Government in March last year despite objection by the Army on the ground that it would send a wrong signal to the forces which are traditionally secular and apolitical. The objection was overruled and the data is being collected by a seven-member Committee, headed by Justice Rajender Sachar (Retd.). He has been quoted as stating: “The military is not different from any other Central Government organisatoin.”  (About this another time).

Even the present Chief of the Army Staff, General J.J. Singh is dead against the Government move.  He firmly believes that it would be improper to collect such a data, leading to a wrong message to the troops.  The General met the Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee recently and conveyed to him in no uncertain terms that the Army is apolitical in character and that the people from all communities and regions work together, live together and fight together, irrespective of caste, creed and religion.  The Chiefs of the other two Services, of the Air Force and the Navy, are also of the same view.  It is another matter that they have passed on to the Committee some information which was readily available, their’s being smaller Services. 

The Defence Minister too agrees with the strong views of the Service Chiefs.  But the survey continues to be on, as the Government considers it an effort to promote “minority welfare” for studying the social, economic and education status of the Muslim community in India.  Or, is it the appeasement of Muslims for electoral gains?  Wonder why the Sachar Committee has also sought information relating to military operations since independence, including the Hyderabad action and the Kargil operation.  Obviously, the Committee wants to know if a large number of Muslim troops had deserted during these two operations.

This kind of an exercise to appease the Muslims sends a very wrong signal to the armed forces.  No desertion has taken place in the Army on religious grounds.  First of all, a distinction needs to be made between a “revolt” and “desertion”.  In military terminology troops “desert” or run away from a battlefield under enemy’s pressure.  Such a situation arose only in 1962, when some Indian troops ran away from the front. Even the commander of that Division in NEFA reported sick.  Indian troops had revolted only in 1857.  British historians described it as “military uprising”.  Freedom fighters call it  the “first war of independence.”  The Sachar Committee seems to have based its query on the contents of a book “Khaki and the Ethnic Violence in India” by one Omar Khalid.

Not many would remember that after the partition of India, the Army Headquarters, then called GHQ (General Headquarters) had offered to the Muslim soldiers an option to go to Pakistan. Muslims (in General Regiments and all-Muslim Regiments, like the 18 and 19 anti-aircraft gun Regiments then based in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and earlier deployed in Burma and Singapore).  Those who opted for the Pakistan Army were allowed to go.  18 anti-aircraft Regiment fully moved out to Pakistan. The machines and the Hindu Officer of the 19 Regiment were kept back. The rest went to Pakistan. Importantly, those who stayed on in the Indian Army remained loyal to the force, and the nation.  Remember Brigadier Usman, who sacrificed his life fighting for India in Kashmir in 1948.  He was posthumously awarded Param Vir Chakra.

After the Kashmir operation, first after independence, several Muslim personnel  sacrificed their lives fighting for the nation. To name a few, JCO Ayub Mohammad was given Param Vir Chakra for gallantry in the 1971 war against Pakistan. The armour officer, who single-handedly played hell with several enemy tanks, was later rewarded with the Lok Sabha membership.  One can go on and on remembering names of Muslim personnel who laid down their lives in the service of the nation.  Former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Latif was instrumental in preparing fighter pilots and in planning air attacks. At present the senior most Officer in the Indian Army is Lt-Gen. Z.U. Shah, brother of film star Naseeruddin Shah.  He is commanding the Dimapur-based 3 Corps.

In fact, India’s armed forces have lately been shocked by stupid proposals time and again – equally horrifying and damaging for the military ethos if not more than the headcount of Muslims.  Only a few months ago, a proposal was mooted to change the Army’s regimental system and to seek reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  The demands such as this, headcount of Muslims and creation of more regiments for the SCs and STs would do the country’s armed forces great harm – not only for the might of the force and the globally known valour of its jawans but also to its regimental history and traditions.  The soldier fights for the izzat of his regiment – and, of course, the service of the nation.

The demand for reservations or creation of new regiments has been lately made by the Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and former Governor Suraj Bhan.  Earlier, L.K. Advani as the Deputy Prime Minister had promised to raise a Gujarat Regiment during his election campaign in Gandhinagar for the Lok Sabha poll in 2004.  Demands for new regiments have also been made from Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Karnataka.  In this connection, please understand that the British rulers did not raise Indian regiments on caste or community basis.  They picked up soldiers from different regions and named their regiments accordingly, like Rajputana Rifles, Sikh Regiment, Dogra Regiment, Gorkha Regiment etc.

Defence policy-makers and politicians have need to visit military units and spend some time there to see for themselves how they function and train.  Personally they practise their own religion, for which  temples, masjids and Churches are available in most old regiments. But when in uniform, and on the battlefield their “dharma” is only one: service to the nation. There is total brotherhood, no Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai. And at the time of recruitment, promotions, deployment and training, merit is the only consideration.  There is no question of caste, community or religion. This is the military ethos of free India.  Please do not try to meddle with it. If you do it, it will be at your own peril.  ---INFA.


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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