There are times when Narendra Modi can be absolutely correct and yet trip himself up. His speech last Sunday was a telling example. To a mammoth crowd he declared that the Indian Army is our finest example of secularism. He’s absolutely right.
However, what Mr Modi doesn’t realise is that the Army’s practice of secularism is almost the exact opposite of his own conduct. This is where he stumbled. A few simple facts will explain how.
Regiments of the Indian Army, 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.
An article in Daily Bhaskar.com (16/9) says: “(The) Army is the only place where you can see a maulvi conducting the proceedings of Janmashtami as Panditji was on leave.”
Also, you will never come across a Commanding Officer taunting a minority. They don’t refer to Muslims as Mian Musharraf or compare them, even allegorically, to a kutte ka bachcha. Modi-speak would be an anathema.
The truth is you can serve in the Army for years without being conscious of the religion of your colleagues. It simply doesn’t matter except in their private lives.
During the 1965 war the 3rd Rajputana Rifles fought Pakistani soldiers on the Line of Control.
Twenty-five percent were Muslim. Their CO was Christian. Muslims have risen to be Army Commanders, the critical post below Army Chief. At least two have commanded 15th Corp, a bastion of our defence in Kashmir. Many others have served as Lieutenant-Generals and Major-Generals.
Many Muslim soldiers are a part of the Army’s roll-call of honour. Hawaldar Abdul Hameed won the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest award for gallantry, in 1965. Brig Mohammad Usman posthumously won the Maha Vir Chakra in 1947. Lt. Col. Salim Caleb in 1965.
In contrast, how many Muslims are part of Mr Modi’s government? How many did he field in December 2012? The answers are stark and revealing.
Mr Modi doesn’t have a single Muslim minister. In fact, in the 12 years he’s served as chief minister he’s never had one.
In December 2012 he fielded 182 candidates for the state elections. Not one was Muslim. Actually, he’s hasn’t fielded a Muslim candidate in any of the three elections he has won.
Yet, 9.1% Gujaratis are Muslim. They play no part in Mr Modi’s government or legislature party. The Indian Army would find that inexplicable, offensive and wrong.
Fortunately, Mr Modi has realised the Indian Army is the country’s most secular institution. In fact, he wants us to “take lessons in secularism from the Army”. Perhaps he should be the first.
I recommend he spend time with one of the Army’s mixed units. All Mr Modi would need to do is keep his eyes and ears open and mouth shut. I don’t mean that to be offensive. He simply needs to look and listen. That’s best done when you’re not pontificating.
Last Tuesday Mr Modi celebrated his birthday. Perhaps General Bikram Singh should gift him a week’s stay at the Rajputana Rifles Regimental Centre in Delhi. It has a little masjid visited by Hindu soldiers on Eid. It would be an ideal vantage point for his first lesson.
And if he visits their temple on Janmashtami or Ram Navmi he’ll find the regimental maulvi and many Muslim soldiers in attendance.
Views expressed by the author are personal