What RSS & Mohan Bhagwat Can Learn From a Secular Indian Army
Before criticising the Indian Army, the RSS needs to learn that it is possible to be both Hindu AND Secular.
What was the insinuation in RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat’s thoughtless remarks that while the army takes seven months to get ready for war (presumably reference to Operation Parakram after Parliament attack in December 2001), his swayamsevaks are able and ready to mobilise in three to four days and should, therefore, teach their mobilisation drills to the army?
Whether it had any hint that they might cross over as volunteers (after the Constitution is changed) at appropriate times has been left in suspended animation. There is a larger strategic messaging in Bhagwat’s initial statement and subsequent clarification, and that messaging needs to be revealed.
An Apolitical, Secular Army
The swayamsevaks are recognised as highly selfless and disciplined and the cutting edge of the BJP’s campaign of winning elections across the country. Despite their many skills and talents, there are a number of things the RSS can learn from the army.
The sine qua non of the army is encapsulated in the following: regimental traditions, customs, ethics and ethos. In Hindi, it is called dastoor and would include izzat aur iqbal. The infantry is the only combat arm which represents and exudes these military virtues in profusion.
The Indian Army is one among a few in the world which is apolitical, secular and professional, the three key ingredients of a war-winning force and most notably, it remains under civilian political control, unlike the army in a neighbouring country in which the civil-military equation operates in reverse order.
The most outstanding value of the army is that it is secular in word and deed. Its soul derives from the secular fabric of the country. In the army, there are fixed-composition regiments like Gorkhas; mixed composition regiments like the Madras Regiment; and all-India regiments like Mahar and Guards.
Under one roof, in an all-India regiment battalion, you will find a temple, gurdwara, church and mosque. Being secular means being a Hindu Jat or a Gorkha as well as an Indian.
Lesson for RSS: One Can Be Hindu AND Secular
The RSS is a Hindu nationalist organisation which must demonstrably respect the values and customs of non-Hindus. There are still regiments which have Hindu and Muslim companies in the same battalion who fight together.
If only the RSS, like the Indian Army, would follow the enduring tradition of being both Hindu and secular, it could call itself a secular Hindu organisation. Because you can be a secular Hindu as well as a patriot and a nationalist, as Indian soldiers have demonstrated for over 200 years as part of the army.
The epic contribution of Special Forces from different religions is a significant reminder of secular military operations in our country.
Statements of individuals like BJP MP Vinay Katiyar: “Musalman ko iss desh mein rehna hi nahi chahye, unhone jansankhya ke aadhaar par desh ka batwara kardia toh iss desh mein rehne ki kya avashyakta thi? Unko alag bhu-bhaag de dia gaya, Bangladesh ya Pakistan jaayen yahan kya kaam hai unka? (Muslims should not live in India and they should either go to Pakistan or Bangladesh),” do great harm to the unity of the country and the secular credentials of the army.
Notably, the RSS has not contradicted Katiyar’s statement.
What Army Needs for Better Preparedness
Training is another skill which the army could pass on to RSS. Endurance and survival training, motivation and short spells on the LoC would give them first-hand knowledge of the rigours faced by soldiers in the line of duty, including at Siachen. But all this can happen, as Bhagwat says, if the Constitution is changed.
Bhagwat was right when he observed that the Indian Army, unlike his boys, is not combat ready, because they have been served a bad deal during the Defence Budget for decades.
He claimed that the RSS had helped armed forces during war, presumably manning the interior lines of communication. He can also help by advocating to his friend Prime Minister Modi, a veteran RSS pracharak, a bigger defence modernisation Budget (for the infantry soldiers, especially, whose proposals are periodically cancelled, and revived at least for the third or fourth time).
The lives of many a soldier (who have died on the LoC) could have been saved if they had been provided modern equipment .
Mohan Bhagwat, Are You Listening?
Private militias or whatever name you may give them, the country does require fearless volunteers for covert activities across the border from where India faces threat from proxies.
The biggest challenge facing the country today is the regularity of cross border attacks directed at soft targets in the hinterland in Jammu and Kashmir. We have not created covert forces with volunteers on an all-India basis. This might constitute one element of the ‘befitting response’ we hear daily from our leaders. The truth is that even if we are three decades late, we have to work on this new army of volunteers who could also be from the RSS.
RSS pracharaks and swayamsevaks have a great deal to learn from the army and its core values and traditions. These activities have to be taken to the next level. But first they have to prove that they can be Hindu as well as secular. It will be their contribution towards national interest and Bhagwat does not need a constitutional amendment for this.
(Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta is a founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, the forerunner of the current Integrated Defence Staff. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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