Regimentation in the Indian Army: Not a colonial legacy but the cutting edge
By Lt Col JS Sodhi (Retd)
“Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it, it flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it” goes a famous saying. And the soldier who puts the national flag in any territory captured from the enemy in a war is invariably from the fighting arms of the Indian Army who are in the forefront of the war zone when a war is waged against India. The primary role of the Indian Army is defending the nation in a war and not counter insurgency operations. Managing an external conflict is perhaps the only reason why a country has armed forces.
Counter insurgency operations are the primary role of the state police forces and the para military forces. Whenever the state police forces and the para military forces areunable to quell the insurgency, then the Indian Army is pressed in for counter insurgency operations.
Since the Indian Army last fought a full-fledged war in 1971, so few seem to have forgotten the primary role of the Indian Army. India is located in a precarious geo-political location with two hostile neighbours on its eastern and the western borders.
In 1998, soon after taking over as the Defence Minister of India, George Fernandes called China as India’s No. 1 threat. This remark created a political tsunami in India and overseas as till then Pakistan was seen as India’s biggest threat.
George Fernandes in 2003 retracted his remark before the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to China the same year. In hindsight the remark of George Fernandes had deep meaning and was discerning after the Doklam standoff with China in 2017 and the Galwan Valley Clash in 2020.
China will not wage a war against India till it takes over Taiwan as eastern China is more important to it as 90% of its population lives there and most of its important cities are located in its eastern part. Taking over Taiwan will give China free access to the South China Sea and in turn to the Indo-Pacific region as China knows that its soft belly is its eastern part which has a 14,500 kilometres long coastline. Till then it will continue having skirmishes with India and will endeavour to maintain border ascendancy.
On January 02, 2019 Xi Jinping, the President of China announced that Taiwan will be taken back by 2050. This timeline is special for China as it completes 100 years of its independence in 2049.
Pakistan too will not attack India till it recovers from the imminent financial bankruptcy that it is staring at, and will continue waging a proxy war by supporting terrorism in India through covert and overt means.
Hence, training and preparing for a war should remain the primary focus of the Indian Army and this sight should not be lost or overlooked under any circumstances.For an army in the world, it is of paramount importance that they are always battle ready. Armed Forces practise drills to improve reaction time and the most crucial aspect of battle readiness is the quality of training and combat experience of the troops.
The fighting arms in the Indian Army comprise the Infantry, Armoured Corps and the Mechanised Infantry. The supporting arms comprise the Regiment of Artillery, Corps of Army Air Defence, Army Aviation Corps, Corps of Engineers, Corps of Signals and the Intelligence Corps.
The services comprise the Army Service Corps, the Army Ordnance Corps and the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers whose main task is to provide logistics to the army.
The cutting edge of the Indian Army are the three fighting arms comprising the Infantry, Mechanised Infantry and the Armoured Corps as these three arms have the first direct contact with an enemy in a war and amongst these three it is invariably the Infantry who always holds the ground even after the armoured and mechanised columns have over run an enemy territory.
Infantry comprises various Regiments like the Maratha Light Infantry, Rajput Regiment, Bihar Regiment, Sikh Regiment, Gorkha Rifles, Jat Regiment, Assam Regiment and the Sikh Light Infantry which have fixed troop composition.
Infantry is also known as the Queen of the Battle. Like in the game of Chess, all moves hinge around protecting the Queen, similarly the Infantry is the most important as it depends on the final outcome of a war.
The various Regiments of Infantry are further divided into Battalions. A Battalion is also called a Paltan in the Indian Army. It is for the “Izzat” or the honour of his Regiment and his Paltan that an Infantryman willingly sacrifices his life for the nation when the call of duty beckons so.
This is the true essence of Regimentation which takes years to build and which has made the Indian Army the finest fighting force in the world.
Contrary to the notions that the Regimentation is a colonial legacy, the fact is that Regimentation existed in India much before the Britishers came to rule us.
History is replete with the tales of bravery of the intrepid Marathas of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj or the valiant Tamils of the Chola Dynasty or the fearless Assamese of the Ahom Dynasty or the courageous Sikhs of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
The Britishers realising the immense combat potential that regionalism could play in having a strong army formally raised the present Regiments of the Infantry, retaining the intrinsic character of each one of them as they existed before.
The bonding in the Regiments and the Battalions of the Infantry is because of various factors like the language they speak, the region they belong to, the food they eat, the God/Deity they worship and from all these factors flows out the War Cry of the Regiments which every Infantryman shouts when he does “Dhaava” (charges at the enemy in hand-to-hand combat) which is always the final stage of wresting a territory from the enemy.
War Cry is an essential aspect of getting into combat as it gets the adrenaline pumping and brings the focus of the entire fighting unit to the impending task.
Festivals in each Battalion are celebrated with gaiety and fervour which are common for the troops of the Battalion. This leads to the strong bond of human relationships and bonhomie which clearly reflect on the operational performance.
These factors have been lost sight of as it has been over 51 years since the Indian Army has been embroiled in a full-fledged war.
As few propagate the end of Regimentation in the Infantry by adopting the All India-All Class system of recruitment for mixed troops under the recently announced Agnipath scheme, it should be remembered that Regimentation comprising fixed troop composition is the fabric of Infantry Regiments. If the regional composition of the Regiments is diluted, the regimental fabric will get weakened.
The All India-All Class system of recruitment for mixed troops which has been followed since Independence in 1947, till date did not affect the existing fixed troops composition of the Infantry and was limited to the new raisings after 1947.
India is a diverse country and the principle of unity in diversity has been inscribed and enshrined in the constitution. The unity of diversity needs to be strengthened for extricating maximum combat potential. The same should continue to follow as hither-to-fore as the Regimentation has proved to be very effective and efficient. Robert Atkins quote is quite apt “Don’t fix what’s not broken”.
It is of paramount importance that the present demographic and regional design of the fighting arms is not tinkered with.
It should be remembered that the basic character of modern warfare will always remain unequal and will invariably be skewed towards the side which is fundamentally stronger. It is common to see in many Infantry Battalions, the second and third generation soldiers serving in the same Battalions as their forefathers. This infuses unmeasurable love for the Battalion and the Regiment which is quintessential in winning a war.
The last recruitment in the Indian Army under the earlier 15-year mandatory service rules took place in 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic struck in early 2020.
The lot of soldiers recruited in 2019 will retire in 2034 (unless they rise in the promotional sweepstakes) and that year onwards in each Infantry Battalion which has 900 soldiers, 225 soldiers will be long service soldiers and 675 will be Agniveers of upto 4-year service.
Out of these 225 soldiers, approximately 100 will be in centralised roles in the Battalion and Rifle Companies, thus leaving just 125 soldiers to handle the sophisticated weaponry in the Infantry Battalions like ATGMs, Mortars and MMGs which require at least 7 years to master these weapons.
These 125 would also be the leaders at sub-unit level who would be expected to go into a battle with 675 Agniveers with 4-year service or less. This roughly translates into an Infantry Section going into war with seven Agniveers and three experienced soldiers with considerable experience. If Regimentation of fixed troop composition is done away with, such an Infantry Section’s performance in war raises deep and serious questions.
The service of the 4-year period of an Agniveer will be grossly inadequate to meet the operational requirements of an Infantry Battalion and if the Regimentation of fixed troop composition is too done away within the Infantry, there will be an incalculable price to pay post the 2034 era in case a war is waged against India.
Similar would be the case for Armoured Corps and the supporting arms which are following the fixed troop composition as they too have sophisticated weaponry and equipment in them.
If the Agnipath scheme has to succeed, Regimentation should remain in the Indian Army, for Regimentation is not a colonial legacy but its cutting edge.
George W. Dunaway rightly remarked “You must give reasons to have confidence and pride in themselves, in their leaders, and in their units. Only then will you have loyalty. Loyalty was the primary trait I looked for in soldiers”.
(The author retired from the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army and is an alumnus of NDA, Khadakwasla and IIT Kanpur. He is a M.Tech in Structures and has also done MBA and LLB. He Tweets and Koos at @JassiSodhi24. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.)