At a public rally in Ghaziabad, Samajwadi Party's Azam Khan made a statement that it was the Muslims who had won the Kargil war for India. Vice-Admiral Premvir Das, who retired as commander-in-chief of the Eastern Naval Command and was also a member of the National Security Advisory Board in the Prime Minister's Office, speaks to Manavi Kapur on whether such statements affect the morale of officers in the armed forces.
Azam Khan has claimed that it was the Muslim soldiers who won the Kargil war for India. Is there a basis for such claims?
This is a completely bogus and stupid statement. And as far as the armed forces are concerned, these divisive statements are meaningless to servicemen.
Do you feel that the contributions of Muslims are sidelined in the defence services, a claim that Khan makes? Considering that regiments are formed along regional and community lines, how does this help check tensions between officers?
As for the contributions of Muslim soldiers and officers being sidelined, this is absolutely not the case. Several chiefs of the armed forces have been and are Muslims. Air Chief Marshall Idris Hasan Latif is the former chief of air staff of the Indian Air Force. Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain headed the Army Corps in Jammu and Kashmir - a particularly complex region in the country. In fact, Param Vir Chakra awardees, like Havildar Abdul Hamid, have been Muslims. The contributions of all officers are recognised equally, and to suggest that there is any discrimination based on religion or community is fictional.
With regards to the question about community-based divisions in the Indian Army, the facts are a little more complex. Only the infantry, which is just one-third of the Indian Army, is community based. The remaining two-thirds have divisions across work profiles and not communities.
Even in the infantry, only the soldiers are from the same community, their commanding officers could belong to any community or region. For example, the Gorkha regiment could have a Tamil officer heading it. Because of these community-based divisions, there may be instances where certain regiments, like the Grenadiers, could have a higher proportion of Muslims.
During the Kargil war, the Indian Army deployed 10 to 12 infantry regiments, of which only one was a Grenadier regiment. Khan's statement about Muslims winning the war is thus completely rubbish - it was the Indian Army that won the war for the country.
Was there any internal debate within the services regarding the deployment of Indian Muslims in Kargil during the war, considering the war with Pakistan brings to surface the myriad and complex communal tensions within Indian society?
The armed forces have fought Pakistan in 1965, 1971 and 1999. There was no consideration or debate whatsoever within the armed forces about the deployment of Indian Muslims. All our soldiers and officers fight for their country, keeping aside their religion and their communities.
Khan made these statements in Ghaziabad where a large percentage of voters are former servicemen. It is also the Lok Sabha seat from where the former army chief, General VK Singh, is contesting. How do statements like these, made during election season, affect the morale of officers in the services?
These mindless statements do not affect the morale of servicemen at all. Each soldier and officer fights for the izzat of his regiment, which, in the larger picture, translates into a fight for the izzat of the country.
If a soldier's commanding officer, the defence minister or even the prime minister of the country were to make such statements, it would be damaging and demoralising. Views of a politician like Khan are laughable. All servicemen, whether serving currently in the forces or not, will dismiss such riff-raff, though it may make them angry. But anger does not make them lose their efficiency, losing their morale does.
In the context of Ghaziabad and General Singh, I doubt it will affect any retired servicemen living in that area, irrespective of the percentage of Muslim votes. No Muslim in the armed forces ever though that he won the war - it was his country that won it.
These are not thoughts harboured by men in the armed forces, so these statements will not influence who they choose to vote for.