Prime minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind recently got a letter from retired military officers about a threat lurking within India that could affect the morale of the armed forces that are on high alert due to the tensions with China.
The letter, signed by at least 120 retired officers of the armed forces, said that a social media message that talks about a Muslim Regiment in the Indian Army was a hoax and should be dealt with promptly.
According to the social media post, the Indian Army had a regiment comprising only Muslims. It was, however, disbanded after they refused to fight against Pakistan in the 1965 war.
As the letter pointed out, the Army never had any such regiment, not in 1965, not before and not since. This is a lie being spread by forces “inimical” to the nation, the retired officers from all the three services — Army, Navy and Air Force, said.
A regiment, or a battalion, is a military unit usually commanded by an officer of the rank of a Colonel. It is an infantry’s main fighting unit and comprises three platoons.
As the retired officers pointed out, the message contains ‘outright falsehoods.’ The Indian Army troops have always taken pride in being secular and apolitical. Once in the Army, all that matters for a soldier is the country’s security, even if the enemy is a family member. As the retired officers themselves pointed out: “Muslims fighting as part of multi-class regiments proved their absolute commitment to the cause of our nation. They gave the examples of Havildar Abdul Hamid, who earned the Param Vir Chakra, and Major Abdul Rafey Khan, who was killed fighting a Pakistani division led by his own uncle during the 1965 war.
There are some regiments, like the Sikh regiment and the Gurkha regiment, that were formed in the British era. The Army has retained those regiments to continue with history and maintain their ethos. But it has never had a Muslim regiment.
It is also a disservice to the force to say that some of its troops had refused to fight against an enemy of their same faith. The soldiers — irrespective of the their faith — are always battle-ready, and ready to make the ultimate sacrifice in the service of the nation.
For a soldier in the Army, all that matters is the unit, every other kind of individual identity is immaterial. The motto is ‘One for all and all for one’. They are told to fight for the three Ns: ‘naam’ (name/honour of the unit/Army/nation), ‘namak’ (loyalty to the country), and ‘nishan’ (fighting for the flag of the unit/regiment/Army/nation). So it is baseless to say that a regiment refused to fight because of its religion.
The Army as an institution does not promote any thoughts on the lines of religion. It is, in fact, the epitome of secularism. One of the first things a soldier is taught is to respect all religions.
A while ago there was a video of an officer from the special force (SF), also known as para special force, that had gone viral on Twitter. The officer recounted an incident to highlight how much value the Army attaches to religious unity. He said when he was commissioned and he joined the SF, his commanding officer asked him for his religion and caste. When he said he was a Hindu and a Rajput, he was asked to take a dip in dirty water nearby. “I realised there is something wrong,” he said. When he was again asked the question, he answered his religion is SF and his caste is SF, he said. “The commanding officer then told me, ‘See, you are an officer. And your religion is the religion of your boys’.”
The Army has never discriminated against anyone on the basis of religion. It is pluralistic in the truest sense of the word. The military forces in India are the ultimate abode of brotherhood and amity. All the bases, camps and cantonments of the Army have places of worship for all religions. And each member attends all the rituals and functions irrespective of their faith — be it shabad kirtan, mandir parade, namaz or morning mass. There are also religious teachers present in Army uniform at many places. There are many cantonments in even places like Mathura where non-Muslims help maintain masjids.
In regimental and training centres, it is mandatory for recruits to attend events of all religions. This promotes religious harmony and tolerance. There are countless tales of Army officials with different beliefs staying thick friends for life.
Earlier this year, former Army chief Bipin Rawat was criticised by many past military officers when he made a comment about the anti-CAA protests, saying he has “crossed the line” by taking a public stand.
Army chief General M.M. Narvane had then said that armed forces will preserve the core values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity as enshrined in the Constitution at all cost. We all swear an allegiance to the Constitution, an officer or a jawan. We have taken the oath. Justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, as enshrined in Constitution, guide us in all our actions and at all times,” he had said in January.
This has been the guiding principle of the Indian Army. That is why the social media post needs to be condemned in the strongest terms. As noted in the letter by the retired officers, it “denigrates and questions the loyalty of all serving and retired Muslim soldiers.” Such attempts to cause a rift in the Armed forces on the basis of religion should be dealt with sternly. This is an institution that has always upheld secular values.