//SC/STs want better representation in Forces

SC/STs want better representation in Forces

NEW DELHI: The opposition and other observers on Monday decried a high-level central commission’s demand for a count of Muslims in the armed forces. The Prime Minister’s Office has distanced itself from the move, while the commission looking into the welfare of Muslims denied any malicious intent.

Even as the debate over the issue rages on, the National Commission for SC/ST said it would renew the demand for better accommodation of Scheduled Castes and Tribes in the military through dedicated Ambedkar regiments. The Commission is expected to send a fresh demand in the coming days for increasing the intake of SCs and STs, commission chairman Suraj Bhan told DNA on Monday evening.

Former Defence Minister and NDA convenor George Fernandes dubbed the demand for Muslim count as “anti-national”.

“Whoever took such a decision is not just an enemy of the nation but is also wholly ignorant of India’s security concerns. It is my conviction that the exercise on which the government is on could turn out to be a seditious act.”

The RSS and the BJP came down heavily on the government for going ahead with the survey, ignoring protests from the armed forces. Expressing its outrage, the Sangh Parivar flayed the government for its “attempts to communalise” the forces. RSS spokesman Ram Madhav said this was an attempt to divide the army on communal lines.

BJP president Rajnath Singh said, “I am shocked by news reports saying the Prime Minister’s Office has ordered a count of Muslims in the three wings of the armed forces. What is the meaning of this count?” Army Chief General J J Singh said in Vishakapatanam that the Army doesn’t recruit on the basis of religion, and that it is apolitical and secular.

In Delhi, J&K governor Lt Gen S K Sinha said the men in uniform never think about religion. “It is the ethos of the Army. We never give a thought to religion when we deal with our colleagues,” Sinha said.

In a damage control exercise, Justice Sachhar on Monday said information regarding Muslim representation has been sought from all walks of life.

He said, “There is no way the committee would ever ask any question that may in any manner be even remotely prejudicial to the interests of the nation which must always remain supreme.” Distancing the PMO from the controversy, Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to the PM, said after the Sachhar committee was created last March, the PMO was not involved. Under the committee’s terms of reference it has been asked to find, “what is their relative share in public and private sector employment.”

Josy Joseph & Sanjay Singh,Tuesday, February 14, 2006  01:04 IST