One Nation, Many Faiths: Lessons in Unity from India’s Armed Forces

Indian Armed Forces show the importance of secular values in India. Military officers play an important role in motivating and leading soldiers in wars against adversaries, despite their religious affiliations. It is a model to end communal activities in politics, and bureaucracy to lead the world in secular democratic values.

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Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
Col NN Bhatia (Retd), besides being a combat military veteran is perhaps the only freelance consultant in Industrial Security. He has audited large numbers of core strategic industries in both private and public sectors such as Aeronautics, Airports, Banks, Defence, DRDOs, Mints, Nuclear Energy, Oil, Power, Ports, Prasar Bharti (AIR & Doordarshan Kendras) Railways, Refineries, Space, Ship Building, Telecom & various vital Research Centres & Laboratories and conducted numerous Industrial Security & Disaster Management Training Programs, Seminars, Workshops & Exhibitions & interacted with numerous Ministries, Departments & NGOs and undertaken Industrial Security Audits, Reviews, Training & Advice in Disaster Management & handling of IEDs & Explosives. He has vast experience in the management of the Human Resources, Training & Development, Liaison, Fire Fighting, Logistics, Equipment & Material Management, Strategic Decision-Making Process, clearance of Maps & Aerial Photography (GIS), Explosives handling, Industrial Security & Disaster Management. He is physically, mentally and attitudinally sound having good communication skills to undertake Industrial Security Consultancy, IED handling, Coordination & Liaison Assignments to add to the productivity of the Organisation. He can also organise discreet customised intelligence gathering & surveillance operations on a turnkey basis for his clients. He is a prolific writer written numerous articles on industrial security, national and geostrategic security issues and 5 books- KUMAONI Nostalgia, Industrial and Infrastructure Security in 2 volumes, Soldier Mountaineer (biography of international mountaineer Col Narender Kumar 'Bull' and Reminiscing Battle of Rezang La. *Views are personal.

In India, we are proud of our secular values enshrined in our constitution, though the communalism card is often overplayed in our politics, in winning or losing elections, societal welfare, and government power.

As military officer, what is the religion of its officers to motivate & lead soldiers in war(s) against adversaries? The war cries like ‘ Kalika Mata ki Jai, Jai Badri Vishal’ Ayo Gorkkhali, Dada Krishan ki Jai, Bharat Mata ki Jai, Bole So Nihal’ and so on to stir the souls of all ranks to charge the enemy with valor unafraid of death or injuries for sure triumph. Officers by birth may be devout Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, any other faith, or even an atheist, BUT what is his religion in his unit where he has pledged to fight for our country’s security, safety & integrity? Will all our ranks from tribal communities not kill or destroy the Naxalites, or being Muslims, NOT kill & destroy Pakistanis or its supported Lashkars & terrorists attacking our security, safety, sovereignty, and integrity? All faiths in our armed forces amicably destroyed northeast insurgents with minimum loss of lives, property, and infrastructure.

As soldiers and more so as officers, our religion is the religion of our troops we command & lead with secular values. Though born and brought up like a liberal Arya Samaji, my religion in my Kumaoni & Ahir troops units was to protect Lords Ram, Krishan, Hanuman, and Kalika Mata and our secular values. My religion was my olive green (OG) uniform.

In units having Mandir and Gurudwara, there is healthy competition amongst sub units to prepare best Halwa Prasad in Mandir & Guru ka Langar on auspicious days, further strengthening esprit-de- Corps amongst troops.

Indian Army’s L. General DG Pandey prayers namaz in Srinagar with army including Muslim and non Muslims. Image: Indian Army

In 1984, during anti-reservation cum communal riots, I was commanding my Battalion deployed in the walled city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat on internal security (IS) duties. Our General Officer Commanding (GOC) was the late Maj Gen Afsir Karim, who was amongst the best military commanders, with the highest integrity and professionalism of his time. A thorough gentleman who believed in fair play once in the walled city was addressing a peace committee consisting of Hindus and Muslims and was questioned by a man stating, ‘Sir aap Muslim ho, to aap Muslims ko support karogey’ (Sir, you are Muslim and you will support Muslim) or words to that effect. Touching his uniform, the general replied to him amidst much clapping that his vardi (uniform) was his religion that motivates him for justice and fair play as a country’s citizen donning the OG uniform fighting our adversaries, terrorists, and anti-national elements (ANEs) to safeguard our freedom & national integrity.

Sarv Dharma Sthal in the mixed Army units
Sarv Dharma Sthal in the mixed Army units

In many of our units, troops are from multiple faiths. Lately, Sarv Dharm Sthals has been established to address spiritual and religious needs. Sunday religious ceremonies and festivals of troops’ of various faiths are properly organized and attended by all ranks. My adjutant, Capt Bobby Mathew (later Lt Gen), a devout Roman Catholic often with a twinkle in his eyes, reminded me of the Sunday morning Mandir parade. I also recollect attending Eid prayers in 13 Grenadiers’ Muslim sub-units & every year addressed Christmas & New Year prayer meetings during my 4 years long tenure in the Assam Rifles Church. We all attended functions of the Hindus, the Muslims & the Sikhs in this elite force with equal fervor. There are many mixed units in our armed forces.

Indian Army Cadets Take Oath
Indian Army Officer Cadets Take Oath

I was so very happy to read once in an article written by Lt Gen Ata Hasnain ( Retd), former GOC of Srinagar Corps, that his religion in the army was the religion of his Garhwali troops (Jai Badri Vishal) though in his personal life, he is a devout Shia Muslim. After all, I feel proud that we are the world’s largest secular democracy and NOT a Hindu Rashtra, and the government should be secular, respecting all religions equally, and being fair to all the castes, creeds, or religions. The Prime Minister or his ministers cannot inaugurate any place of worship in an official capacity but attend their respective faith as free Indian citizens. Sadly, not a single Muslim has been elected as a member of parliament (MP) as a BJP candidate in our newly elected parliament (MP). What to say, being even a junior minister in our present national government?

I really appreciate the UK’s Hindu Prime Minister (PM) Rishi Sunak, who, in his official capacity, protects the monarchy and the country’s Protestant Christian religion, but in his private and personal life, he is a devout Hindu. We need to learn and keep our personal and private lives within ethical, societal norms. But, sadly, these are not being followed in our secular country. An end must be put to such communal activities in our politicians, bureaucracy, and security forces( SFs) so that our country leads the world’s comity of nations in secular democratic values.

Jai Hind


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