Mountain Out of Not Even a Molehill
The acerbic reaction to an innocuous survey of Muslim representation in the armed services seems to be totally unwarranted. The survey forms part of the task assigned to the Prime Minister’s High Power Committee to assess the socio-economic and educational status of Indian Muslims. The exercise would have been incomplete, had the Committee skipped the Armed Forces, the second largest State employer next to the Indian Railways. Obviously, the pen-pushing retired generals and the media, who have raised the ruckus over the issue in tandem with the largest Opposition party in the Parliament, have read too much and too quickly in the move.
Nothing against the national consensus on keeping the armed forces ethnically secular has ever been said by anybody. Nor does it form the premise of the on-going assessment. The brouhaha therefore appears stemming more from apprehensions latent in subjecting the forces to the test of social homogeneity rather than any dilution of the secular character. Needless to say that a universal recruitment policy that might follow as the logical corollary of the survey, would further reinforce the secular antecedents and enable it to reflect the demographic diversity of the nation in its real sense. It is further perplexing as to why there was not even an iota of protest when the previous NDA Government roped in the Army into providing logistical support to the Sindhu Darshan festival in Leh in 1998 and 1999. Not alone this, the former Defence Minister, George Fernandes in an open display of politicization, had taken the Army general to brief the BJP National Executive.
One would be sadly mistaken if corrective action in setting right the deficiency in national character of the forces is construed with crass communalisation. It will be very much in character with scrapping the British colonial administration’s policy of recruiting individuals from the so-called martial races viz, Rajput, Dogras, Sikhs Pathan, et al. The regiments bearing these names still continue, though only in name. Further universalisation of the character would only enhance the image of the armed forces leading to their more composite nature that is so integral to India.