This is a “scrap” in which the Army, indeed the Indian military at large, would little have imagined it would ever have to dirty its hands. The secular and apolitical character of the armed forces were not just taken for granted, they were an article of faith with the people. Hence there is need for deep introspection at what caused the Northern Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Devraj Anbu, to publicly aver “we don’t communalise martyrs”.

Though the three-star General did not identify his target, it was quite obvious he was reacting to comments from the MP of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad Muslimeen, Asaduddin Owaisi. The General asserted that the “Indian Army is a “sarv dharma sthal (abode of all religions)” and those making statements don’t know the Army well… I never doubt anybody’s credentials who are under my command. They are motivated and patriotic soldiers”. Well said, Sir.

While there can be no excusing the seemingly-radical statement of the ever-sectarian member of the Lok Sabha, it is possible to understand where he was “coming from” when he commented on the killing of Muslim soldiers in the terrorist-strike at the Sunjuwan military station. “They call Muslims Pakistanis. The terrorists are killing us too. Terrorists are not seeing they are Muslims or Hindus. They are considering us Indians. But there are people in our country who doubt our loyalties.”

The political leadership, of the BJP and its associates would be churlish if they ignored the “ring of truth” to Owaisi’s lament: they must display the moral courage to concede that the communal divide has been exacerbated ever since NDA-II assumed office. True that the Army has never discriminated, but ministers and BJP leaders scream “go to Pakistan” at the drop of the proverbial hat, and lose no opportunity to stress that the minorities have little authentic space in today’s India. The communal cancer has spread, nay, has been encouraged to spread to polarise the electorate, even on the basis of caste.

The security forces in general and the Army in particular, now find themselves “suspect” in some minority eyes. The forces are fighting to preserve the territorial integrity of the nation but there can be no denying the perception that they take harsh action against folk in the North-east and the Kashmir Valley because they do not belong to the “mainstream” ~ why are pellet-guns not used anywhere beyond the Valley is a query often raised, never satisfactorily answered.

Some of the comments of top Army officers, inadvertently perhaps, fuel the misconceptions ~ and a partisan electronic media adds to the problem. The military is increasingly getting sucked into a trap from which it will struggle to extricate itself. A massive political and social effort is vital, the government cracking down on irresponsible ministers and party spokespersons would be a good first step. The Army merits such consideration from the state.