Communal Snipe At Armed Forces
As India votes, shrill and vitriol in poll rhetoric of our leaders is hitting the stratosphere. Normally, the politicians avoid any controversial references to Indian Armed Forces in their speeches, but that restrain seems to be falling off. Secular fabric of Indian Armed Forces, woven around the camaraderie and selflessness of its officers and men is under direct attack from political leaders, who would stop at nothing to wrest political power; even if that involved demolishing the ethos of the most dependable and trustworthy institution of the country.
Azam Khan, a cabinet minister in the Uttar Pradesh Government and a Muslim face of the ruling Samajwadi Party told a niche audience during an election rally in Ghaziabad that, “It was not Hindu soldiers but Muslim soldiers who wrested Kargil Heights from the Pakistan army”. His rant and rhetoric was clearly aimed at maligning the image of Indian Army, accusing it of not treating Muslims fairly. The rabid utterances by Azam Khan have brought the flames of communalism at the doorsteps of Indian Armed Forces, threatening to singe its secular fabric.
Politicians despite their least interest in the armed forces and a pathetic knowledge about the ‘matters military’ have been eloquent about the sacrifices made by Late Brigadier Mohammad Usman, Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) during Jammu and Kashmir operations in 1947-48 and Late Company Quartermaster Havildar Abdul Hamid, Param Vir Chakra (PVC) during Indo-Pak war 1965, to connect with Muslim population, particularly in the constituencies of eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Who has protected India’s borders and its sovereignty? Who has won or lost all these wars that India has fought since Independence? Who should we praise or blame for our successes or failures? Mr Azam Khan, no one downplays the contribution of Muslims either in freedom struggle or in wars or in nation building, but your remarks may alienate them once again. Bracketing Indians along the caste and faith faultlines has already done immense damage to our society that we still vote on these petty considerations.
Kargil war was fought and won by Indian Army. The credit goes to all those heroes—sung or unsung. There were battalions and regiments with Muslim troops, who had fought there. So were the other units with Hindu, Sikh, Christian and even Buddhist troops. Irrespective of their faith, troops fought, bled and died together like Indians soldiers have always been doing in wars and low intensity conflict operations. No doubt, there were Muslim infantry men, charging at the enemy entrenched in the bunkers; Muslim gunners, firing incessantly at the enemy; Muslim sappers, clearing the mines and booby traps that enemy had laid and Muslim officers, who so very ably led their troops and made supreme sacrifice during Kargil war. Mr Azam Khan may not be unaware that Captain Haneef Uddin of Rajputana Rifles was one such chivalrous officer, who made supreme sacrifice while leading the assault on Turtuk heights. Grateful nation bestowed Vir Charka on him posthumously and renamed Turtuk sector as Sub-sector Haneef in his memory. Has the contribution of Muslim troops in Kargil war been suppressed or negated by the army or Ministry of Defence?
Indian Army has maintained its secular outlook and credentials right from the days of its origin as Presidency Armies of Bombay, Madras and Bengal under the East India Company. There were Brahmins, Rajputs, Jats, Marathas, Madrasi and Muslims troops who cooked and ate separately but fought and died together. As a matter of policy and practice, the armed forces do not overplay caste or religious issues. Religious denominations are just an entry in the service books of the personnel. In the army, priests (religious teachers) of every faith are employed to look after the spiritual and religious needs of the rank and file. Vacancy of a priest of a particular faith is based on the numbers of Jawans posted in that battalion or regiment. In battalions (800 soldiers) of mixed class composition, it is quite likely to find a temple, a church, a mosque and a Gurudwara. Normally, for 120 Jawans of a particular faith, a priest is appointed. Way back in 1983, I was posted to a newly raised infantry battalion, which had troops from south India—predominantly Marathas. There were some 80 Muslim soldiers on the battalion’s strength—way short of 120-mark for a Maulvi to be posted. The battalion had a Hindu priest.
The commanding officer told the subedar major that a mosque should be established alongside the unit temple and the Hindu priest—a junior commissioned officer (JCO) will be responsible for its operation and administration. A mosque was opened and inaugurated on the next Friday. During the prayers unit religious teacher realised that young Muslim soldiers did not know the procedure/ rituals that well to conduct the Namaaz. He sought permission from commanding officer to hire a Maulvi from outside. Soon we saw an old Maulvi coming to our battalion to conduct Friday prayers and other important festivals. Unit religious teacher would sit through the ceremony and thereafter take him to the JCO mess for refreshment.
Once our battalion was on outdoor training during summer in Rajasthan and the month of Ramazan had started. It was unbearably hot and Muslim boys were keeping fast. Our subedar major had passed instructions to one of the company to cook Sehari and Iftaar meals for all boys and they were relieved from arduous duties to give them some respite from the heat.
Army recruits after the completion of their arduous training pass out undergo an attestation parade—colloquially called as Kasam Parade. I suggest that Indian Army must afford a chance to Mr Azam Khan to witness one such attestation parade, where Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian priests with religious books in their hands pass through the rank and file of recruits and they take oath as per their religion to defend country, its constitution and countrymen. It is an emotional moment which takes the participants and spectators beyond the boundaries of caste and religion. It may help Mr Azam Khan to overcome his bigotry.
Ethos of Indian Army may sound strange to people like him. There are Muslim soldiers and officers who heartily shout battle cry like “Raja Ram Chandra Ki Jai”, while attacking the enemy, like Late Captain Haneef Uddin, VrC and Capt Neikezhakuo Kenguruse, MVC did during Kargil war. On the other hand Rajput, Sikh and Jat Sowars of Poona Horse have fought the Battle of Basantar in 1971, under their regimental colour emblazoned with “Hand of Allah”—the standard captured by the regiment in the Battle of Khushab, Persia in 1857.
Contribution of minority communities in Indian Armed Forces has been immense. It is a subtle fact and not overly publicised. Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw was a Parsi, but whole India is rooting for him to be awarded Bharat Ratna posthumously. Lance Naik Elbert Ekka, PVC, the Keelor brothers, Denzil and Trevor who shot down Sabre Jets during Indo-Pak war 1965 and Capt Neikezhakuo Kenguruse MVC (Kargil war) were Christian. Colonel Chewang Rinchen was just a teenager, when he earned his first MVC during Jammu and Kashmir operations was a Buddhist. There are many Sikh and Muslim names glittering in this roll of honour and whole nation is so proud of their valour and sacrifices.
Whoever sheds blood or dies for the motherland is an Indian first; his or her caste and religion comes later. Mr Azam Khan and his ilk will probably never understand this spirit probably because no one from their clan has had (will never have either) the honour of wearing arms and shed blood under the Indian Tricolour.
It is rather strange that the leader is unrepentant about his remarks and has been continuing with tirade loaded with communal overtone in different rallies. Neither his party nor the election commission has taken any action to rein him in. Save Armed Forces from this communal onslaught.
By Colonel (Retd.) US Rathore