Review of British customs may require a wide sweep

Published on Sep 23, 2022 09:45 AM IST

Will the army rename the iconic Chetwode building, named after a British Field Marshal, at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun?

The iconic hall inside the Chetwode building at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. (File Photo)
The iconic hall inside the Chetwode building at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. (File Photo)
ByRahul Singh, New Delhi

The Indian Army’s upcoming review of British influence on its culture and traditions could have a wide ambit encompassing names of regiments, uniforms and accoutrements, pre-Independence battle honours, grant of honorary commission to junior commissioned officers, insignia, roads and even companies at training academies for officers, people familiar with the development said on Thursday asking not to be named.

“There is an unmistakable British stamp on many of the army’s practices. What will stay and what will go will be decided after the review is completed. Everything will be discussed in detail before a decision is taken,” said one of the people quoted above.

To be sure, the army has not yet officially shared any details of the colonial practices it plans to dump or even commented on the overarching review even though discussions on it are slated to start in the coming days, HT has learnt. A draft agenda of the internal discussions on the matter to be chaired by army’s adjutant general Lieutenant General C Bansi Ponnappa found its way into social media earlier this week and brought the review into spotlight. That meeting is yet to be convened, said an official.

The development has led to many questions.

Will the army rename the iconic Chetwode building, named after a British Field Marshal, at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun? What will happen to the Chetwode motto (…Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time…) that Indian Army officers swear by? Will companies at IMA named after famous World War II battles such Meiktila and Alamein get new names? Will armoured regiments that are still known by their British-era names like Skinner’s Horse and Hodson’s Horse shed their well-established identities?

Only the review will tell.

The call for severing colonial customs in the armed forces was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March 2021 during the Combined Commanders’ Conference at Kevadia in Gujarat when he asked the three services to rid themselves of legacy practices that are no longer relevant.

The PM’s remarks at the top conference were the first indication that many of the remaining colonial practices in the armed forces were on their way out. He underlined the importance of enhancing indigenisation in the national security system, not just in sourcing equipment and weapons but also in doctrines, procedures and customs.

While many in the armed forces have no issues with the ongoing exercise to indigenise military procedures and customs, several veterans have spoken out against the move arguing that there are more important issues that need to be addressed.

“We have so many other important things to focus on. There’s modernisation, capability building and even HR issues such as the Agnipath recruitment scheme. Issues related to military procedures and customs could be put on the backburner for now,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).

Speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort to mark 75 years of Independence, Modi on August 15 spoke of the “panch pran” or five pledges for India to become a developed country by its 100th year of independence in 2047. One of those resolutions was to uproot all signs of colonial slavery from mindset and habits.

On September 2, Modi unveiled a naval ensign at the commissioning ceremony of aircraft carrier Vikrant, with the new flag drawing inspiration from the seal of Maratha king Shivaji Maharaj and the Cross of St George being dropped, a move that the PM described as getting rid of the burden of a colonial past.

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