Thursday, May 17, 2007

Religious Census of army stopped

The MoD has decided not to go ahead with the religious census of the Indian Armed forces.

This information was provided by A.K. Antony in the Rajya Sabha in a written reply to Syed Azeez Pasha in Rajya Sabha today (16 May). (The information can be found at
the Defence Ministry website under press releases).

The ministry wrote:

Armed Forces have a secular and apolitical character. Recruitment to the Forces is based on merit and is open to every citizen of the country without any discrimination on the basis of their case, creed, religion or region. All the personnel from all communities and regions work together without any distinction on the basis of caste, creed or religion. Therefore, it was not considered desirable to supply any data relating to particular religious community in respect of the Army as it would have affected the ethos and cohesiveness of the forces.
This is good news, and the leadership and soldiery of the armed forces will surely heave a collective sigh of relief.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that the government has interfered with the affairs of our Armed Forces. It started with Nehru, when 'loyal' officers were handpicked and promoted, at the expense of experience. The debacle in 1962 was partly a result of this crony-ism. Subsequent governments have tried to dabble in the workings of the army. This has partly stemmed from a fear of the Armed Forces, especially considering the dictatorships that have come to power in the region, an ambition of the politicians to control the army, and make it do their bidding (like they wish to do with most of the country's machinery) and their use of it for their own political ends.

This has mostly not had any lasting or deep effect on the Services, who have grudgingly adapted to them, or shrug the netas off and forgotten their actions.

However, last year's order of the UPA government, in its pursuit of 'secularism' and efforts to woo the minorities set off a veritable flood of bottled up discontent from the Forces, retired officers and generals and Commentators, who saw this as the political machinery's blind attempt to pander to their constituents without caring about the long-term effect on the Army. This order threatened the Army's ethos more than Nehru's policies, the 1962 war, or Bluestar. If implemented, this would have destroyed the secular and moral fabric of the Indian Army, where people of all regions, communities, castes and colours have ought and died together, protecting us.

Col. Athale wrote an excellent piece in about this issue:
After its projects to change Indian history to 'secular' history, the United Progressive Alliance govt seems to have launched a project to make the army 'secular'.

It is undoubtedly true that the number of Muslims in the Army is less than their proportion in the population. This is a historical legacy as the recruitment of Muslims in the armed forces in pre-Independence India was concentrated in Punjab, North West Frontier and Balochistan, all part of Pakistan today.

A similar argument can be also made on the basis of region. The states of Orissa or Gujarat or even Andhra Pradesh are not represented in proportion to their population. To assume any bias on this basis is to see evil where none exists.
He concludes:
Many former and serving soldiers believe that this data collection is the thin end of the wedge of introducing religion or caste-based reservations in the armed forces.

The Sachar Committee's bias has been clearly shown by their reliance on foreign research. It is time the government prohibits the Sachar Committee from dealing with the armed forces.

This does not mean that the government should not ask the army to conduct an exercise as to why the proportion of Muslims or Christians or Gujaratis is less in the armed forces.

Finally a counter question to the Sachar Committee: What is the proportion of Muslim employees in Muslim-owned companies like Wipro and Cipla? If it is less than their proportion in population, do we take it that the Muslim owners of these companies are also against the minorities?

Is there no limit to 'vote bank' politics, for the sake of which a government is prepared to destroy the efficiency and cohesion of its armed forces and jeopardise the nation's security?
Omar Khalidi, author of the controversial book, Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India, which reportedly sparked off this controversy has also given his views on this issue (see

The government's present stance is a 180 turn from Sonia Gandhi's views last year. Perhaps they realized that their quest for 'equality' and votes would harm them in the long run. Or perhaps the top Brass of the Forces decided that enough was enough and decided to make their views clear. Yet, the interference in Army affairs continues. The Supreme Court's spate of orders regarding Army affairs is another example. The armed forces are not all rosy themselves though. Rampant abuses of power, corruption and questionable policies are rife, and do warrant attention and action from the Courts and the Government. However, this must not be an excuse for increased bureaucratic control of our Armed Personnel, and there must be synergic efforts to improve the workings of the Forces. Else, we will see another 1962, and the people in charge would not know what to do.

For now, the Armed forces are safe. Yet, complacency is not an option. Else, there won't be an Army to help out during calamities and Riots. Instead, we may end up seeing Jawans fighting each other and joining the mobs like policemen have repeatedly done. That would be the end of the Indian state as we know it, and the end of the 250 year old institution that is the Indian Army.

As Chalmers Johnson says in Eugene Jarecki's documentary, 'Why we Fight'; "The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance". We must be vigilant.

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