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Loss of Culture? Last Horse Cavalry Regiment Converts to Tanks

It was a symbol of cavalry traditions, heritage, culture, and legacy, and therefore needed to continue as such.

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The conversion of Indian Cavalry regiments to Armoured Regiments, which began on 14 April 1938,  with The Scinde Horse parading its horses for the last time, is now set to be completed 82 years later, with the last horse cavalry regiment, the 61st Cavalry converting to T-72 Tanks.

The announcement marks the end of an era that has left many of the old world expressing a feeling of void and anguish. While the current military hierarchy contest that this was the need of the hour, many senior cavalry veterans feel that 61 Cavalry was much more than just a regiment. It was a symbol of cavalry traditions, heritage, culture, and legacy, and therefore needed to continue as such.

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The forefathers of 61 Cavalry fought the Battle of Haifa, one of the last magnificent cavalry charges, 100 years of which were celebrated recently, and the Teen Murti Memorial was renamed Haifa Chowk by the Hon’ble Prime Minister. It also carries on its shoulders the history and legacy of State Forces like Kachawwa Horse, Mysore Lancers, Jodhpur Lancers, Gwalior Lancers, Kashmir, and the Patiala State Forces, which were all amalgamated to form the 61 Cavalry in 1953.

There are some who consider the regiment as a legacy of the Raj and Royalty. All pomp and show and flamboyance. They regard polo matches as Page 3 events where the who’s who are present and all that glitters is gold.

Some others who are uninformed consider the 61st Cavalry as largely a ceremonial unit, that also engages in sporting activities like polo.

To set the record straight, the achievements of the regiment have been creditable, the result of a great amount of hard work, training and sweat. The 61st Cavalry has been conferred with one Padma Shri, 11 Arjuna Awards (the present Commandant is an Arjuna awardee), nine Asian Games Medals, Gold in a Preliminary Polo World Cup against Pakistan, Silver in Jakarta Asian Games and many more accolades in Equestrian sports.

It participates in polo tournament’s abroad and in Delhi, Kolkata, Jodhpur, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Jaipur each year. 61 Cavalry also additionally provides 50 instructors to All Military Academies – the highest number of instructional posts held by any single regiment. 61 Cavalry instructors are sent to neighbouring countries, too, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc, for diplomatic ties with their respective militaries.

Therefore the regiment has much to be proud of as the epicentre and backbone of equestrian sporting and training events in the country. In ceremonials, too, the regiment has led the Republic Day Parade every year since the 50s, in true recognition of its achievements and valour. One can see that a regiment holding only a fraction of Indian Army Horses has maximum achievements as compared to other units and nodes made by the Indian Army.

It was a symbol of cavalry traditions, heritage, culture, and legacy, and therefore needed to continue as such.

Having said that, one also shouldn’t question the wisdom of the current military hierarchy. They must have taken into consideration much more than what is available in the public domain. Especially when our adversaries show no desire to reduce their armour holdings, we, too, need to add more teeth to our armoury. Therefore amalgamating three independent armoured squadrons under the regimental headquarters of 61 CAV is a workable model.

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However, I wish to propose a slight tweaking to this model to suit operational requirements, equestrian sporting requirements, and the best interests of 61 Cavalry. Firstly, just the way the previous independent squadrons were extensions of parent regiments (Central India Horse, 7th Light Cavalry, 63 Cavalry), the two horse squadrons in Delhi, could also be an extension of 61 Cavalry as its independent squadrons. In this manner, the Commandant of 61 CAV will continue to have a lien over these two squadrons and look after their best interests, especially to do with their equestrian training.

Gentlemen Cadets who show good aptitude in horsemanship and equestrian sports may be chosen to be posted to these squadrons. Needless to say they must do their basic and advance training on tanks.

Their parent regiment can be 61 Cavalry, to which they can revert in case of a drop in performance or operational requirements. This squadron could comprise the best equestrian talent available across the country.

Thus the troops of both the horse squadrons will continue to wear the 61 Cavalry Cap Badge and be commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel/Major of the same regiment. The details of this can be worked out by the line directorate.

Secondly, the Commandant of 61 Cavalry could be an officer who in addition to being a capable tank commander is also a promising horseman. He, therefore, by virtue of his rank will be able to exercise a certain amount of command and control over the training aspects of the horse squadrons.

The present Commandant is a case in point. Colonel Ravi Rathore was commissioned into the Scinde Horse and has secured the highest gradings in his Young Officer Course and Gunnery Instructor’s Course, at Armoured Corps Centre and School, Ahmadnagar. He is both an accomplished Tankman and Horseman. The Commandant of the President’s Body Guard is also chosen under the same criteria. If this is approved, then Commandant 61 Cavalry can continue to spearhead the Republic Day Parade as hitherto-fore.

Thirdly, those of us who have served in the Armoured Corps understand the value and bonding of the regiments and squadrons due to their class composition. Every endeavour must be made to retain the class composition of 61 Cavalry. The present class composition is a squadron each of Rajputs, Marathas and Khemkhanis. If this class composition is retained, to quite an extent the legacy of 61 Cavalry will continue. Yes, initially, when the independent squadrons of Central India Horse, 7th Cavalry and 63 Cavalry come in, the class composition of the squadrons would undergo a change, however, all future recruitments could be in line with the present structure of 61 Cavalry and surely in a few years time 61 Cavalry will be back to its original configuration.

It was a symbol of cavalry traditions, heritage, culture, and legacy, and therefore needed to continue as such.

It would be fair to say that the conversion of 61 Cavalry has been on the anvil for close to three decades. There have always been pros and cons. Such changes come with an emotional package too; someone doesn’t want to let go of his tanks and someone doesn’t want to let go of his horses. There is always a certain amount of angst that accompanies such decisions. Such angst is understandable, but shouldn’t stay for long.

There always are some hard decisions to be taken and it is said once you make a decision, never look back. However, in this battle of the head and heart, sometimes the heart wins, therefore without any biases the above suggestions if adopted could assuage both sides. 61 Cavalry has had an enviable history in the past and going by their glorious track record they will continue to do our Army and nation proud in the years to come.

(Maj Gen VK Singh, VSM(Retd) is a former Colonel of the Scinde Horse regiment.)

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