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24 November, 2019 12:33:12 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 24 November, 2019 11:00:22 AM

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To cap it or not

That morning it was the marshals who caught the eye of all members: surprising some and shocking others
Kumkum Chadha
To cap it or not

It is said to be the first in five decades in the Indian Parliament. Members of the Upper House were taken aback when the House commenced on the first day of the winter session which also marked the 250th session of the Indian Parliament.

It was an important day given that a special discussion was scheduled to be started off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The House was kind of in full attendance given that it was the first day; it was the 250th session the Prime Minister was to speak.
But things took a different turn as the House commenced its sitting: there was a surprise in store for some and a shocker for others, the focus being on marshals. The marshals are part of Parliament’s Security Service. Their job is to assist and protect the Rajya Sabha chairperson. They are stationed on both sides of the Chair: left and right during the proceedings of the House. They also march ahead of the Chairman, announce the commencement of the proceedings as well as assist the Chair as and when required. They also help the presiding officer with his tasks, fetching, removing and arrangement of documents.
Another interesting role that they have is to physically remove the member from the House if the Chair directs and when unruly scenes ensue: more a feature of the lower rather than the Upper House.
About half a dozen marshals assist the Presiding Officers — the Chairman, Deputy Chairman and Vice Chairmen — in conducting the proceedings of the House. The Chairman is the authority for their appointment and service conditions.

That morning it was the marshals who caught the eye of all members:  surprising some and shocking others. It was their uniforms which were a departure to the customary traditional dress that they wore till now. It was a significant and also a controversial change from the erstwhile safari suits that they wore during summer and the Indian bandhgalas during the winter. On both occasions the common factor was the headgear: i.e. the traditional Indian turban: a uniform that they have reportedly sported since the sixties.

The new attire is a military styled uniform: a dark suit and cap: a make-over where the western style attire is complete with  a gold aiguillette, a shoulder insignia, an ornamental braided cord with decorative metal tips and gold buttons. And also a peaked cap. This more than anything else was in the eye of storm given that it had a striking resemblance to what Army Brigadiers and ranks above them wear as part of their uniform.

Even while those behind the move put it to restyling, the change was drastic, to say the least: at least that is what the MPs, defence personnel and those clued into Parliament thought.

It was also enough to trigger an angry reaction as also objections from a section of personnel of the Army including the former Army chief General Ved Prakash Malik who described the attire illegal and a security hazard.

Malik, it may be recalled, was Chief of the Indian Army during the Kargil conflict, and not one to be dismissed lightly. Malik took to social media to raise concerns over the new look of the Rajya Sabha marshals.

Tagging Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in his tweet, Malik objected to the new uniform given that it resembled the one worn by Army officers, Malik tweeted:

“Copying and wearing of military uniforms by non- military personnel is illegal and a security hazard. I hope @Secretariat, @RajyaSabha & @rajnathsingh ji will take early action.”

Talking to media-persons he said: “There is a rule which has been followed most of the time; even recently the Ministry of Home Affairs sent out directions that people outside the Army should not be copying military uniform. Wearing of such uniforms by non-military people is a security hazard, amounts to impersonation. I had taken this up with the Home Ministry, and the Department too has done so at various times. Parliament in particular has faced attacks in the past.”

Said another officer on condition of anonymity: “The peak cap with two oak leaves resembles that of a colonel and those ranked above. There is also the red band,” he said.  

A retired Lt. Gen. asked, “Why do organisations, private and government, and now the respected Rajya Sabha want similarity in attire with armed forces without any consideration for the dignity of soldiers.” “Is it because the public holds them in the highest esteem? Legal provisions needed to respect uniform,” he tweeted.

There is yet another confusion: this being about the uniform resembling what ADCs of Governors wear; or the military secretary to the President for that matter. Army sources said the new uniform of the Marshals was similar to that of senior officers.

Army apart, several members of Parliament too expressed reservations. It was Congress MP Jairam Ramesh who asked Chairman Venkaiah Naidu whether “martial law” had been imposed on the Upper House.

RJD member Manoj K Jha termed the change as “bizarre” stating that a military uniform does not have any place in Parliament.  

Had it not been for objections from the army, Naidu may not have  yielded to considering a change or reviewing the new uniforms ordering officials within a day to re-look the military-style uniform: “We’ve received some observations by some political as well as well-meaning people,” Naidu said. “I’ve decided to ask Secretariat to revisit the same.”

As a first step, Marshals have stopped wearing their peak caps. Within a day of the furore, they appeared in the House without any headgear, the peak caps having been taken off.

That the culprit was the headgear is evident from the fact that the marshals themselves had sought a change because the turban apart from being “cumbersome” took very long to wear.” They had long been complaining that the tall headgear was heavier and they found it difficult to wear it for long hours.

The marshals had long been demanding a “user-friendly and modern looking” uniform and more importantly one that is distinct from chamber attendants who are junior to marshals. The marshals being officers were peeved at being made to wear a uniform that the non-gazetted staff wore, according to officials in the Secretariat.

Whatever the reasons this sure is much ado about something as it were. That the Chairman has conceded to review the decision is a welcome step but the move also puts a question mark on the functioning which seems devoid of wider consultation and smacks of decisions, good or bad, taken by a handful. A change after 50 years needed at least 50 all party MPs to debate and deliberate a move that has not only kicked up a storm but become controversial with even the Army officers forced to speak and express reservation and displeasure.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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