"The policy since Independence is not to raise any new regiment on the basis of a particular class, creed, community, religion or region but to have a force in which all Indians have representation. This is the well-defined position of both the defence ministry and Army," said a senior official.
Added a top general, "Politics should not be played with the apolitical armed forces. The Army is an inclusive, secular force, open to all. It's for that reason the force had even opposed the religious headcount proposed by the Sachar Committee in 2005-06."
Having just finished with the Republic Day celebrations as well as the Army Day on January 15, which marks the day when Field Marshal K M Cariappa became the first Indian chief of the force in 1949, the 1.13-million-strong Army is equally steadfast about resisting any changes in its regimental system.
But it's the existence of this system, with a preponderance of "single-class" regiments like the Sikh, Gorkha, Dogra, Garhwal, Jat and the like, which propels politicians and others to demand a Dalit Regiment, like LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan often does, or a Gujarat Regiment, as proposed by L K Advani when he was the deputy prime minister.
Single-class or "pure" regiments were raised during the Raj based on the classification of certain communities as "martial races". After 1947, India, however, decided to continue with these caste or community-based units because "regimental history, ethos and loyalty" was considered to be the main driving force in combat effectiveness and operational performance.
"Soldiers from the same clan fight better from the same foxhole. These tradition-bound regiments have proved themselves in combat in all conflicts since 1947. They should not be dismantled," said a major-general.
This "battalion esprit de corps" was quite evident during the 1999 Kargil conflict. Quizzed why they had made those daredevil assaults against fortified positions held by Pakistani intruders, the common refrain among jawans was that the "paltan's izzat" (the battalion's honour) was at stake, more than loftier notions about fighting for the flag and the country.
While officers can be commissioned into any unit, the infantry's 23 regiments — with over 350 battalions under them — are basically of three types. Single-class units constitute around 60% of the whole. Even among them, the further sub-divisions are based on community or caste. The Army's seven Gorkha Rifles, for instance, recruit separately from the Gurung, Rai, Limbu, Magar and other communities, both from India and Nepal.
The aim after Independence has been to raise "All India-All Class" regiments, like the Brigade of Guards, where jawans are recruited from all over the country irrespective of class and percentage. "The endeavour is to progressively move towards such regiments," said a Brigadier.
In between these two are the "mixed" and "fixed" class units like the Grenadiers or the Mahar Regiment. The 4 Grenadiers, for instance, has two companies of Jats, one company of Muslims and one company of Dogras. Similarly, Rajputana Rifles has an equal mix between Rajputs and Jats, while the Rajput Regiment mainly has Rajputs and Gujars with a sprinkling of Muslims and Bengalis.
"Jawans, with similar language and eating habits, have kinship, brotherhood...they form a cohesive fighting force. Even in mixed class regiments like Grenadiers, individual companies - the basic fighting units — are `pure'," said a Colonel.
The other "fighting arms" like the armoured corps and artillery also have several instances of "pure" units among them. Many artillery medium or field regiments, for instance, are "pure" ones recruiting only Gorkhas, Sikhs, Jats, Ahirs or Marathas into their respective folds. But "support" arms like ASC, EME, Ordnance, Signals and the like are resolutely "all-class" units.