//Query to army stirs row

Query to army stirs row

New Delhi, Feb. 13: A query by a committee appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office on the number of Muslims in the armed forces is being used by the Sangh parivar and the Opposition to allege that the government is planning to introduce a quota system and raise employment of Muslims.

But the PMO has distanced itself from the survey, saying the committee headed by retired judge Rajinder Sachar was working autonomously in its study on the status of Muslims in the country.

The query was part of the study and in no way was it intended as a statement of policy or to goad the defence establishment to disturb the recruitment system, it said. The committee has been asking the same question to a number of government institutions.

The army is understood to have conveyed to the defence ministry that recruitment was not made on the basis of communities and any attempt to tinker with the system could upset a delicate balance.

Army chief General Joginder Jaswant Singh reportedly refused to get into a discussion on the pattern of employment. He said the armed forces are among the most secular institutions of the government. “Religion is never an issue. Our recruitment system is based on merit,” he said.

The Indian Army is 1 million strong and follows a regimental system that is a colonial legacy. The army has never had a Muslim chief but the current head is the first Sikh at the top. Generals from other minority communities — Christian and Parsi — have been chiefs. The air force has had a Muslim chief and the navy Christian chiefs.

The army has Muslim generals but, in the order of precedence, none of them is in line for the chief’s office. Soldiers across communities have been decorated for gallantry and among the rare Param Vir Chakra winners is the late Abdul Hameed Khan.

But the percentage of Muslims in the army is probably less than the ratio of the minority community to the rest of the population. Official figures are not available.

General S. Padmanabhan, a former army chief, felt that a community-wise survey of the army was unreasonable and prompted by “a madness”.

RSS spokesman Ram Madhav said: “We were shocked to hear that the government wants to assess Muslim representation in the armed forces. We take strong objection to this communal attitude.”

The BJP, divided on foreign policy and struggling to come up with a focused strategy for the budget session, said it would “complain” to the President against the bid to “communalise” the army.