Military says nothing new, veterans sceptical

A video showing lined-up and uniformed men clapping to the beat of Om Jai Jagdish Hare, being played by the army band, has prompted many veterans to wonder whether the occasion was a passing-out parade and caution that, if so, the happenings violated the army’s secular traditions.

Army spokesperson Colonel Sudhir Chamoli denied it was a passing-out parade, insisting the men were performing aarti outside the temple of their unit on a religious occasion and that there was nothing wrong with that.

Colonel Chamoli, who said the video showed a religious occasion and not a ceremonial parade, told The Telegraph: “This is nothing new. The Indian Army conducts parades for all religions — mandir parade, gurdwara parade, masjid parade, etc. If a regiment is predominantly Christian, then Christmas is a regimental function and we have a parade.”

But many veterans said that several clues — including the youth of the soldiers, the weapons they carried and the general look of the place and event — suggested it was a passing-out parade though they couldn’t be certain about the geographical location.

Whether the clip shows a passing-out parade or not or if it turns out to be not authentic, the fact that several veterans chose to express concern mirrors the anxieties that swirl around almost every institution in the nation in the past few years.

Colonel Harinder Chhina (Retd) saw the development as “introducing Hindutva in (the) army”, while a former IPS officer, N.C. Asthana, tweeted that the “last bastion of a secular State has fallen with this”.

It’s common for army regiments to play religious music from the various faiths during holy occasions, and for the soldiers to march to its accompaniment. But, retired officers said, they had never heard of religious music being played during ceremonial parades — such as Republic Day parades or passing-out parades — which are “institution-level” and not regimental events.

As the incident sparked a social media controversy, former Lieutenant General H.S. Panag tweeted the video and posted: “Great leap forward for ceremonial military parades....”

Former brigadier Sandy Thapar tweeted: “This seems a rehearsal of POP (passing-out parade), GCs (gentlemen cadets) running around.... This is at the start of drill square from where the procedure begins. I do not recollect this procedure of Aarti. Neither as GC nor as instructor there.”

A gentleman cadet is a trainee at a military academy. A passing-out parade is held when a batch completes its training. A retired lieutenant general said the video certainly showed a “drill square”, from where a passing-out parade starts.

“The video is of a passing-out parade as we can see the new recruits standing in front and a few seniors standing behind them. They are carrying weapons — why should they carry weapons while doing aarti outside a temple at their unit?” he said.

Some veterans appeared non-committal.

The former navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, had raised a query on Wednesday, tweeting the video and tagging the former army chief, General V.P. Malik.

“My doubts: Is this clip authentic? & if so, is this drill & bagpipe score as per Indian army custom/ tradition/ SOP for a parade @Vedmalik1,” he had written.

Gen Malik tweeted back: “This appears to be a religious event organised by an Artillery Regt. A new event by its nature. Let someone from younger generation answer custom/SOP query.”

Admiral Prakash said in another tweet: “Certainly a new event, and a novel drill format wherein the rifle is held between the legs, while parade claps with both hands!”

Another veteran, Manoj Kumar Channan, who did not state his former rank, tweeted: “Desecration of sacred drill square, never in my life I thought of witnessing this... sad.”

Colonel Chhina wrote: “This (video) seems to be authentic. If true it is against military traditions. For God’s sake, (Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin) Rawat is requested to discard this process of introducing Hindutva in Army.”

Former IPS Asthana tweeted: “The last bastion of a Secular State has fallen with this. The tune and the gestures leave no doubt. What a shame to the uniform and its neutral character. Realise how it all fits into the Grand design — on paper a Secular State; in practice a Theocracy.

“Their (regiments’) performing religious rituals is however, fundamentally different from such things during ceremonial parades. Ceremonial parades belong to the institutions, and not regts.”

A veteran cited how Rawat had on Thursday performed puja for the new defence complex in Delhi that will house over 7,000 personnel.

“Such activities were earlier never seen or publicised by the secular Indian Army,” the veteran said, calling it “a very dangerous trend”.