One of the oft-repeated proud facts about the present Indian Armed Forces is that it is secular in nature and has no religious connotations associated with it. But is this a good thing? Question is- does religion and composition of army play any role in the defence of the nation? After all religion is one of the strongest binding forces for any nation. From North east to Kashmir, every state in India where Hindus are in a minority, has an insurgency problem, a fact which cannot be brushed aside as statistical anomaly. If not for the lack of geographical continuity with Pakistan and role of Sardar Patel, Hyderabad would have definitely ended up with Pakistan, due to the religion of the ruler of Hyderabad. The secular ayatollahs in India claim without any sense of reason that Indian Nation state is secular and hence the army of the nation, which is supposed to preserve and protect it, has to be secular as well. It should not discriminate on the basis of religion and allow Muslims among its ranks, even though our primary national threat is a Muslim majority Pakistan, which positions itself as the thekadar (caretaker) of the Muslim world. But the question is- should the army continue with its secular hiring policy and appoint Muslims in high ranking positions? To answer this question one has to look at the history of betrayals by Muslim soldiers when fighting against other Muslim armies, in case their own country was non-Muslim.
Evidence from Soviet-Afghan war
Soviet Union is the best case study to look at Muslim behaviour, given it was the pinnacle of a secular and godless society, which India cannot ever hope to achieve. They monitored the mosques and used state appointed bureaucrats to oversee the operation of all mosques in their country to ensure that the Muslims kids raised in their schools got secular education and were taught to put Soviet interests over their own religion. However, despite their strong efforts this secularization crumbled, as soon as they entered the Soviet-Afghan war and got betrayed by a large number of Muslim soldiers.
At the start of the war, the Soviet high command betted heavily on its Muslim units of Central Asian Origins and deployed them in Afghanistan to help their Afghan Communist allies to ensure better coordination among the Soviet and Afghan soldiers in their fight against the Jihadis, given their language affinity. This was a huge miscalculation on their part because the desertions and betrayals from their Muslim units started as soon as the war broke out. The incompetence of these units was so high, that Soviet Union decided to pull them out just after three months into the war and replaced them with units formed by Slavic soldiers.
The threats posed by the Muslim soldiers were on different levels- some of them fraternised with the locals, while others were reluctant to fight and some out-rightly showed open disloyalty and joined the ranks of the Jihadis. According to some estimates, the desertion rate was as high as 60-80% during the first year of the war. Since, the Soviets had to replace all their Central Asian Units with European Units, it severely reduced the size of Soviet forces deployed in Afghanistan and left a long lasting impact on this war. Although the Central Asian Muslim troops played a crucial role as interpreters on the field, but post initial desertions they were only deployed in mixed units and formed very small part of counter-insurgency operations. In hindsight one can say that the Soviets learnt their lessons the hard way.
Evidence from Medieval India
When the Islamic forces were running amok over entire India, Vijayanagara Empire in the south held on to India’s Hindu roots. The Hindu kings of the empire were fair to all their subjects and did not discriminate on the basis of religion in their day to day activities, so much so that they even hired Muslim soldiers in their ranks. But they were in for a surprise and were betrayed at a crucial moment in the war with Deccan Sultanate at the battle of Talikota. The battle which was going in favour of the Vijayanagara empire was lost when there was a confusion in the middle of the Hindu army, as they got attacked from the back by their own Muslim commanders and soldiers.
Despite all these disadvantages, the greatest factor was the betrayal of the Vijaynagara Army by two Muslim commanders (Gilani Brothers). At the critical point of the war, Muslim officers in the Vijayanagara army launched a subversive attack. Suddenly Rama Raya found himself surprised when the two Muslim divisions in his ranks turned against him. The Muslim troops of the Vijaynagara army had opened a vigorous rear attack on the Hindus and captured several artillery positions. Several cannon shells landed near Rama Raya’s elephant and he fell from it as his mount was struck by a cannon shard. Rama Raya tried to recover, but Nizam Shah made a dash to seize him.
These Muslim soldiers were all well decorated in the Vijayanagara army and were treated as equals but that was not sufficient to stop them from betraying at the crucial moment. All that was needed to turn them against the kafir Hindu king was a call to safeguard Islam by their fellow Muslim army a day before the battle. The results of this war were far reaching as the Muslim armies then marched and sacked the capital city of Hampi, which now lay in ruins, and set in motion the decline of the Vijaynagar empire.
The same mistake of trusting Muslims was repeated by the Marathas and was one of the chief reasons for their loss at the third battle of Panipat. In the previous wars, Shuja-ud-daula’s father was helped by the Marathas against his enemies and was supposedly one of their allies. However, when Marathas needed his help against the invading Afghan army, Shuja-ud-duala instead of helping Marathas decided to back-stab them and attacked their supply lines. This act of betrayal is also an interesting case study from the point of view of exploiting Shia-Sunni rivalry as propounded by some Indian nationalists. Shuja-ud-Daula, a Shia, was often ridiculed and mocked by the Sunni Afghans and Rohillas for his unIslamic beliefs but he brushed aside these differences when the opportunity came to prove his loyalty to the Ummah and fight against the Kafir Marathas, despite constant goading from his mother who suggested him to join Marathas given the constant help they gave to his father.
Evidence from Indian National Army (INA)
The Hindu-Muslim riots form a crucial part of pre-partition history of British India. Since the political dispensation in post independence India has belittled the role of INA in Indian independence movement, it ensured that people did not take a deep look at INA’s shortcomings, especially the behaviour of its Muslim soldiers, which is the primary interest of this article. To give some background, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was a big Islamophile himself and went out of his way to make Muslims comfortable, often claiming that Hindus being in majority should be magnanimous while dealing with Muslims. However, Muslims being what they are only saw this magnanimity as a sign of weakness.
Muslims formed a core part of INA that was led by Netaji and were present in most of its units. A large number of them joined INA because the allies were fighting against Turkey, which was still seen as the remnant of the old Ottoman Caliphate. Since Netaji ignored this fact, he was in for a big surprise during the latter stages of the war when INA experienced Muslim desertions and betrayals on a large scale. The event which triggered this desertion was change in Turkey’s stand as it joined the war on the side of the allies. While some of them deserted INA, others went on to rejoin the British army.
Netaji tried to give geopolitical reasons behind the change in Turkey’s stand but failed to stop this desertion. Once again the Muslims proved that they preferred their pan-Islamic identity over national identity and chose to be slaves under British, an ally of Turkey, rather than fight for their national Independence. Not to forget the fact that the newly minted Pakistani army in 1948 made a good harvest from these former Muslim soldiers in the INA. This is in sharp contrast with the behaviour of Tamil Hindus of Malaysia, most of whom had not even seen India, but joined Netaji in his fight against the British army by joining the INA and remembered him as their hero till the end.
Present and Future
Even today, there are many examples of Indian Muslims in the army working as spies for Pakistan. Despite being only 2% of the Indian army, Muslims contribute a much larger number of spies that are caught working for the Pakistanis. This is because nationalism is almost identical with iconoclasm in Islam. This was the reason why Deobandis at the time of partition did not want partition of India as there is no concept of nation state or nationalism in Islam and there is only allegiance to Islam and Allah. This is the reason that we hear in everyday news about Muslims opposing even the secular slogans like Jai Hind as Islam does not allow praise of any other entity other than Allah.
This is not to say that all Muslims serving currently in the armed forces are traitors. There are brave Muslim martyrs who have won the highest military honours like the Param Vir Chakra. However, those numbers are too small in the grand scheme of things. Is the benefit of having few Param Vir Chakra capable nationalist Muslims worth the risk of betrayal that comes from assuming Muslim trust, especially when the risk is so huge that we might lose parts of our country to the Islamic barbarians in the west? In modern days the war is decided by intelligence reports rather than slug matches which makes unit integrity even more important. Given these considerations something as divisive as Islam cannot be discounted just to pander to our false sense of morality.
In the wake of Sachar Committee report, there has been a debate about changing the religious composition of the army and increase the Muslim representation. But given the long history of Muslim betrayal in the past, this policy change will be a big compromise on Indian security. Instead of trying to create artificial secularity and give pseudo-justifications based on a false sense of moral righteousness, India should be pragmatic and limit the number of Muslim soldiers in its ranks, a policy that is being followed since independence. To quote George Fernandes:
The Muslim is not wanted in the armed forces because he is always suspect whether we want to admit it or not, most Indians consider Muslims a fifth column for Pakistan.
If India disregards history and fails to learn from the experiments of Vijayanagar and Marathas, it will soon join them as an entity in the history books of tomorrow and museums.