By Kushal Jeena Feb 17, 2006, 19:31 GMT
NEW DELHI, India (UPI) — The controversial government-backed survey on Muslims in the Indian armed forces is actually an attempt to profile the minority community and not to divide the forces along religious lines, Indian social scientist and political activists said.
‘The allegation of communalizing the armed forces against Justice Sachar committee is completely over the top as the committee has been assigned the task of collecting data on the proportion of Muslims in different spheres that provide employment opportunities,’ said Atul Anjan, prominent social scientist and political worker.
He said the relevant question is the committee virtually demanding information on a sensitive matter from the armed forces.
Anjan said vested political interests, irresponsible media reports and the peremptory style of the enquiry committee have played their role in over-inflating the job of the Justice Rajinder Sachar committee.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in March 2005 set up a seven-member high-powered committee headed by former chief justice of Delhi High Court Judge Rajinder Sachar to address issues relating to the socio-backwardness of Muslims.
The committee wrote to different government and private institutions, asking them to provide details of Muslims engaged in different projects under their auspices.
The committee also sought the same details from three wings of the armed forces, but in a demanding style that is said to have irked the chiefs of all three branches.
This also sparked political furor, with the right-wing Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party charging the committee of attempting to communalize the military, navy and air force.
The major opposition BJP and National Democratic Alliance took the matter to the street and senior leaders including former Interior Minister Lal Krishna Advani and former Defense Minister George Fernandes met President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and urged him to ask the committee to refrain from seeking such data from the armed forces.
‘This (data quest) is an attempt to divide the armed forces on religion basis. The government is pursuing a Muslim appeasement policy,’ said Fernandes and Advani.
‘Even a perceived attack on the homogenous structure of the armed forces on consideration of religion will result in fragmentation of precious national asset, the last resort of the nation in any emergency, and for orderly governance of our diverse society,’ the opposition leaders said in a signed memorandum submitted to the president.
Advani said the survey is a shameless attempt to woo the communal vote. The opposition has linked the survey with the forthcoming assembly polls in five Indian states in April this year.
A large number of former army officers, who joined the BJP after their retirement from the forces, took part in a protest rally in the capital against the committee`s move.
‘The armed forces attract volunteers. There are no quotas in services for enrollment or promotion,’ said Lt. Gen (retired) S.K. Sharma.
The Indian army objected to the survey, saying it would send the wrong signal. ‘We are apolitical, secular and professional. That`s the way I would like to look at it,’ said Army chief Gen J.J. Singh.
The defense ministry intervened when it became a political issue.
Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee denied the allegation that the committee sought data to communalize the armed forces.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh distanced himself from the controversy, leaving it to the Mukherjee to deal with.
‘The Prime Minister`s Office has not been involved with the work of the Rajinder Sachar committee, which asked for the survey in the armed forces as part of a government-sponsored study on the Muslim community,’ said a statement from the prime minister`s office.
It said a controversy people were trying to make controversy out of the workings of a committee that had been formed by the prime minister`s office, and had been asked to prepare a report on the social, economic and political status of Muslims in the country.
Justice Sachar also rebuffed against those opposing the survey. ‘We are just carrying out a factual survey of the representation of Muslims in all services. This is not limited to the armed forces,’ Sachar said.
The 140 million Indian Muslims constitute the world`s second-largest Islamic population, after Indonesia.
The committee has visited all the southern states besides central Madhya Pradesh, northern Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, Western Bihar and West Bengal to study the status of Muslims.
‘The issue of collecting data from the army was being politicized and the Sachar committee was meant to study the reasons behind backwardness and poverty in the Muslim community and its correction course,’ said Tom Vadakkan, social scientist and Congress leader.
Head of the committee, Justice Sachar said the committee has yet not received any data from any branch of the armed forces on the status of Muslims.
Copyright 2006 by United Press International