The Army is planning to convert its famous 61st Cavalry, the only active serving horse cavalry regiment in the world, into a regular armoured regiment with tanks. It has sparked outrage among purists in military circles, who assert the “short-sighted step will destroy a glorious historical tradition”.
A senior officer at the Army headquarters, confirming the move to TOI on Thursday, said the aim was to transform the Jaipur-based 61st Cavalry into “a combat force” from its present role of being “largely a ceremonial unit” that also engages in sporting activities like polo. “But the cavalry’s 200-odd horses, some in Jaipur and the others in Delhi, will be retained,” he said.Sources, however, said the commanding officer (CO) of 61st Calvary, which is likely to be rechristened the 61st Armoured Regiment at Jaipur, will have three “independent squadrons” of tanks under him. “The horses are likely to be moved to Delhi to set up an ‘equestrian excellence node’ or something,” said a source.
The purists contend this will “demolish the special character and historical legacy” of the 61st Cavalry, which was raised in August 1953 after amalgamating the horse-mounted cavalry units of the erstwhile princely states of British India.The striking Teen Murti Memorial in New Delhi, incidentally, was constructed during the British Raj to commemorate the heroic role played by the Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Mysore Lancers during the legendary Battle of Haifa (now in modern-day Israel) in 1918 during World War I, which was among the last victorious cavalry charges around the globe.
The Indian Army, in fact, celebrates “Haifa Day” on September 23 every year as part of its overall tradition to honour the valour of its regiments. At present, the ceremonial President’s Bodyguard (PBG) based at Rashtrapati Bhavan and the 61st Cavalry are the only horse-mounted units in the Army.
But this could well change now, though the Army is tight-lipped about the exact contours of the conversion plan for the 61st Cavalry. The 12-lakh strong Army currently has around 1,100 Russian-origin T-90S main-battle tanks as well as 124 indigenous ‘Arjun’ and 2,400 older T-72 tanks in its over 65 armoured regiments. Each armoured regiment typically has three squadrons of 14 tanks each under it.
With additional T-90S and Arjun tanks in the pipeline, the Army wants to raise new armoured regiments. The CO of the new armoured regiment (61st Cavalry) at Jaipur will be given “command and control” over three independent T-72 tank squadrons, as per the plan.