Recently, two very contradictory impulses were contextualised onto the Indian Armed Forces, one gloriously nurtured, revered and publicly prided by the institution itself, and the other sneakily, ignobly and maliciously attributed by obviously vested interests.

The clear distinction of intent in the two attributions by different sources, was telling of the increasing infringement of reckless politics on an institution, that was, is, and should always remain predicated on constitutional morality and apolitical anchorage.

In today’s wounded, polarised and vulnerable times the Armed Forces are also susceptible to the larger winds of ‘new normal’ that blow - its ability to isolate, refrain and recuse itself from the dominant politics of the day, are sadly diminishing.

In the profession of arms, attributions made on the institution are not mere wordplay, they have serious consequences. This institutional rock of stability in India’s imperfect but still beautiful experiment with democracy, now runs the risk of mirroring the degradation of other governmental arms, unless spared the unnecessary taint of politics.

Indian Armed Forces continuously offer the rare ‘hope’ in this lowdown of dispiriting smallness that seems to have consumed society with bitterness and divide. The routinely uplifting, dignified and patriotic (not uber-nationalistic, as often misunderstood) conduct of the Indian Forces, blows away the toxicity of hate and bigotry.

One such recent incident was the tweet from the handle of the Chinar Corps, the foremost Indian Army formation that is in the thick on handling Pak-Chinese misadventures, ‘In keeping with the traditions & ethos of the #Indian Army, #Chinar Corps resuscitated a damaged grave of Major Mohd Shabir Khan, Sitara-e-Jurrat, Pakistan Army, who was Killed in Action (KIA) at a forward location along LC in Naugam Sector on 05 1972’.

This may perhaps surprise those who are either unfamiliar with the ethos of the Indian Armed Forces or have been seduced into believing the soldering is equivalent to, hate-mongering. Those who have had the honour and dignity of wearing the ‘Uniform’ would know of no other way to behoove and uphold its exacting standards. A soldier recognises an enemy soldier (especially a ‘fallen’ soldier), as a human being who is entitled to a certain respect, irrespective of their earlier engagement and beliefs.

India’s ancient soldering traditions predate the Hague and Geneva Conventions, which mandate the behavioural laws of war. Such lofty conduct does not diminish fighting-abilities, on the contrary it infuses the invaluable moral-justification of bearing weapons and conducting violence on behalf of the nation. This is a matter of pride and strength of the Indian Armed Forces and not a sign of weakness.

It is true that the same spirit may not be reciprocated by the enemy nation, but that says something about that nation’s values – at the end of the day, the track record of raw gallantry as personified by the exceptionally professional bearing of the Indian soldier, remains unmatched.

This is not hagiographic romance; it is a matter of fact that is etched in blood on the unforgiving heights of Kargil or the scraggy swathes of Galwan valley.

Morality, humanity and war have an inseparable and inexplicable triangularity that separates a professional soldier from a mercenary, militant or a terrorist – those who transgress the hard-lines, transit into the latter.

Indian Armed Forces have survived the societal morass, degradation and afflictions only because they did not allow the growing political interests and ‘divides’ to enter its rank, file and consciousness. Politicians have a heightened sixth sense that can sniff utility in any person or institution and appropriating the ‘Soldier’ to contextualise their own ‘muscular-rhetoric’ is a lamentable fit. But politicians are inherently impatient, greedy and disdain concerns of long-term consequences that could befall a deliberately restrained institution like the Armed Forces. Neither are they conversant with the sacred tenets of soldering or its abhorrence with anything that potentially disharmonizes its core, the only instinct that the such vested interest invokes is of furthering electoral prospects, irrespective of the ‘cost’. Introducing the Soldier to the throbs, agendas and falsities of politico-social divide is the surest way to institutional doom.

One such venomous effort was to posit a blatant lie of a ‘Muslim Regiment’, that ostensibly refused to fight in 1965 Indo-Pak war? This not only denigrates people of a certain faith, but it belittles and shames the Indian Armed Forces and above all, India. For a service that is underpinned on meritocracy as opposed to personal denominations, this is the inevitable price of willy-nilly allowing the politics to piggyback on its broad shoulders.

The ensuing project of rewriting history to suit a larger narrative may make political sense, but it attacks the soul of the people who routinely go beyond the call of duty, often by ‘paying the ultimate price’ – not because of its politicians, but despite them!

It is sad that one must increasingly invoke the names of Havaldar Abdul Hamid (Param Vir Chakra awardee, incidentally in 1965 Indo-Pak war itself) or the finest Generalship of the likes of Enaith Habibullah, Sami Khan, Zameeruddin Shah and so many more, to blunt such vile, shallow and reckless falsehood.

An Indian soldier is simply an Indian soldier, though principally identified by his/her parent regiment or service – so, a Lt General Ata Hasnain is a proud ‘Garhwali’ just as Lt Gen Mohammad Ahmed Zaki, a distinguished ‘Maratha’, period. The fact that even civilian Kashmiris had stood firmly behind the Indian Army in 1965 and in all other wars, is an inconvenient fact that may not suit the canard of the ‘Muslim Regiment’?

Along with the heroics of Brigadier Rajendra Singh Jamwal, it is the oft-forgotten saga of Brigadier Mohammad Usman to whom India owes its territorial right over Kashmir, against Pakistan. The ‘Lion of Nowshera’ who spurned promises of becoming the Chief of Pakistani Army following partition in order to persevere his faith in the majestic ‘Idea of India’, became the highest-ranking Indian officer to be killed in combat.

Brig Usman’s last words were, ‘I am dying but let not the territory we were fighting for fall for the enemy’. Today the travesty of that memory is that those who may never have shed a drop of blood for the nation, are making such communal, despicable and provocative statements.

While it is true that the inheritance of the British Regimentation system and ‘martial’ considerations bestowed Infantry regiments with regional or caste-based nomenclatures – but there was never a ‘Hindu Regiment’ or a ‘Muslim Regiment’.

Post-independence, a more concerted effort at ‘mixed’ and multi-class regiments became the norm. My own Rajput Regiment had some battalions with 50% Rajput and 50% Muslim composition pre-independence, and the reallocation of companies to Pakistan’s Punjab Regiment notwithstanding, numerous soldiers from the said faith have added incalculable glory to the illustrious Rajput Regiment, ever since.

I had the proud privilege of joining and later commanding the battalion raised by the legendary Field Marshal KM Cariappa – a progressive, thoroughly professional and visionary officer who drove multi-class composition. Later, as the Commanding Officer I had the honour to re-integrate Ahirs, Jats, Muslims and many other denominations that have ensured that the 17th Battalion of the Rajput Regiment (‘Barhe Chalo’), remains amongst the finest battalions of the Indian Army.

Now in the winter of our lives, to see the regressive attributions onto the Armed Forces is a deep and dangerous concern. As the irrepressible Field Marshal Cariappa famously said, ‘To me there is only two stans – Hindustan and Foujistan’, and so it should remain, without creative attributions.