Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)
Former Deputy Chief of Army staff
MARSHALS in Parliament stand beside the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and carry files and papers to them. Since long, they wore special turbans as part of the ceremonial dress, but all too suddenly, they have found these turbans to be cumbersome and heavy for their heads. So, the best option was to let them wear Gandhi caps in place of these turbans.
However, whosoever worked on this issue of replacing turbans seems to have gone overboard and redesigned the entire dress of these marshals. This new dress copies the headgear (peak cap) of a general officer of the army and ranks on their shoulders are copies of those of the Indian Air Force officers. In addition, some more items of the military uniform are also added.
The law does not permit copying and wearing of any item of military uniform. However, this law has been openly flouted by not only a range of police organisations, both in their dress and badges of rank, but even the private security staff of a number of security companies.
While all this not only tends to denigrate and diminish the military, it has serious security implications. After all, the military is the ultimate instrument of the government to combat security threats to the country: both internal and external. Often, during threatening internal security situations, mere deployment of the military has the necessary salutary effect on the rampaging mobs and order is restored without having to use force.
In this context, it would be appropriate to recall an incident in Kashmir that took place in the sixties. The Holy Relic (Muay Mukadus) went missing from the Hazratbal mosque. As word of this went around, nearly half a million people collected in Srinagar. The mob set fire to the local police station and tehsil headquarters. It then turned to the five-star hotel of the then Chief Minister (Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad) under construction and set it on fire. The fire brigade vehicles, as they arrived to put out the fire, too were set ablaze.
At this stage, a call for the military’s fire brigade was made. Fire brigade vehicles from the military’s ordnance depot were sent along with a fully armed platoon of infantry. The mob stayed away from these fire brigade vehicles, while they dealt with the fires.
Being winter time, the state government had moved to Jammu and the local commissioner, thinking that his police will not be able to cope with the deteriorating situation, decided to hand over the city of Srinagar to the military. Since we had only one JAK Rifle Battalion in Srinagar, two battalions were moved from Baramulla to Srinagar. For the next three days, a crowd numbering nearly half a million, kept assembling in Srinagar, yet there was not even a single incident of arson or damage to any property. Such was the salutary effect of the presence of the military on the unruly mobs.
Unfortunately, all that has vanished and one of the reasons is that it has become difficult for the mobs to tell the military from the central police.
However, at present, the military, when called to deal with terrorists in J&K, is subjected to stone-pelting, attacks on their vehicles and even attempts at snatching weapons from soldiers. The reasons for this sad state of affairs are many, though the one that stands out is the indiscriminate copying of the military’s uniform by all and sundry, particularly by the central police organisations. Thus, during the Jat agitation in Haryana, military’s columns, during flag marches, had to carry huge posters which noted the column as that of the military, because it was near impossible for an average citizen to tell a military column from a central police column. In insurgency-affected regions, often terrorists are able to take advantage by wearing military-pattern dresses and are thereby mistaken for the Central police personnel.
Whoever designed this new uniform (later withdrawn) for the marshals of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha was either ignorant of what he was doing or it was yet another attempt to denigrate the nation’s military. It is indeed surprising that no Member of Parliament felt offended and demanded the removal of this new dress of the marshals. All else apart, the cap in this dress of the marshals is the same as worn by general officers of the Indian military.
It is for the Central government to ensure that no one is allowed to copy any item of the military uniform. If that does not come about, then the military, in its own interest, needs to revert to the olive green (OG). After all, the Indian army fought through the Burma campaign wearing the OG.
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