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Threatening the army’s fabric

Karan Thapar

I am concerned about the future of our uniform services and, in particular, the army. Children of soldiers often sense danger when it’s only lurking on the horizon but, equally, their sensitivity can account for their fears being occasionally misplaced. Let me, therefore, share mine with you.

It was recently reported that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has decided to “open an ‘Army’ school next year that will train children to become officers in the armed forces”. The school, located in Shikarpur in Uttar Pradesh, is to open in April and will be run by the RSS’ education wing, Vidya Bharati.

Now, as we know, the RSS is not a secular outfit. Its commitment to Hindutva is well known. It regards the Hindu faith as superior to all others. It believes India’s minorities must acknowledge their Hindu origin. And it’s not fond of Muslims, to put it euphemistically.

The Army, on the other hand, is India’s most secular institution. Its regiments, depending on their character, have their own mandirs, masjids, gurudwaras or churches. They have regimental maulvis, pandits, granthis and priests. The Commanding Officer participates in all religious festivals. On Eid, he will happily wear a topi. On other occasions, a tikka or a pagri.

In fact, this is true of all three military services. You’ll never come across a sailor or airman taunting a Muslim, indulging in cow-vigilantism, or permitting a fellow soldier to be mistreated. The way the Air Force rallied to support Mohammad Akhlaq’s family proves my point.

Now, can you see my concern? Won’t recruits from an RSS army school change the character and ethos of the army? Surely the attitudes and convictions they’ve imbibed – which I would call prejudice – will influence their behaviour as officers? Or, at least, make it hugely difficult for the Army to reverse their thinking?

Let me now come to a second concern, this time to do with the police. The recent video of the Shamli superintendent, in full uniform, massaging the feet of a kanwariya is deeply disturbing. Not only does it lower the image of the force and breach its constitutional duties, but it is also a blatant denigration of the sanctity of the uniform. The duty of the police is to safeguard law and order, and act against its infringement. Of course, officers and constables should be friendly and approachable, but that’s different to being familiar and subservient. They need to command respect and, when necessary, instil fear. Massaging the feet of kanwariyas converts them into assistants and helpers.

When questioned, the Shamli superintendent, Ajay Kumar Pandey, blithely responded: “It’s up to people to interpret it the way they want”. When a policeman in uniform sends out a message, there should be no doubt what it is. The police are not to be understood by interpretation. That way the message could be lost in translation. They have to be recognised in clear and undisputed terms.

Unfortunately, this is not the only example of misuse of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police. Asking them to shower rose petals on travelling kanwariyas is another. I have no doubt this was required by the state government. The chief minister, after all, is a yogi who understands the kanwariyas better than the constabulary.

What I cannot fathom is why police officers did not refuse to obey such instructions? They’re clearly wrong and officers are required to politely but firmly reject them. But that didn’t happen. Isn’t that a sign this institution is hollowing out from inside? And what’s true of UP is undoubtedly true of every other state.

This is why I’m worried the RSS has its sights set on the army. As a child, I often visited the Rajputana Rifles Regimental Centre in Delhi. It has a little masjid frequented by Hindu soldiers on Eid. On Janmashtami or Ram Navami, you’d find the regimental maulvi and many Muslim soldiers in its temple. How long will that continue if RSS influence spreads through the Raj Rif?

(HT Media)

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