New Delhi: Changing of military band tunes, pre-independence era battle honours, mess procedures and a greater emphasis on Indian war heroes in military studies — these are some of the changes being examined by the Indian armed forces as part of a larger push towards ‘indianisation’ of the forces, ThePrint has learnt.
Currently, a large number of military band tunes are of British-origin. Some of these tunes have also become a part of long-standing traditions and played during specific ceremonies. For example, Auld Lang Syne and Abide With Me, are played on all Passing out Parades and Beating the Retreat ceremony, respectively.
Defence sources told ThePrint that it was being examined whether some of these iconic tunes can be replaced with suitable Indian tunes, which could continue to convey the same message.
“The search for replacing some of these tunes has started. The endeavour is to implement the changes by the time India celebrates the 75th year of Independence next year,” a top defence source told ThePrint.
Sources said that it was also being discussed whether it will be prudent to lay to rest some pre-independence era battle honours, which were awarded to units for exhibiting exceptional collective bravery during wars. One of the important traditions of the armed forces is to celebrate the bravery of the troops in wars and it is done in the form of celebrating battle honour days.
Many of these honours were awarded to units of the then British Indian Army, for fighting against local Indian kings. For example, battle honours were won by units during the first Indian uprising against the British, in 1857, including in the battle with Rani Lakshmibai.
Some were also won during the two World Wars and in other battles, such as Battle of Haifa, against the Ottoman Empire.
Sources said that while a few British-era mess procedures, especially those observed during dinner nights – formal sit down dinners – have been modified since Independence, it was now being examined if and how any further changes can be made.
Another defence source told ThePrint that most military studies in the country refer to the writings of Sun Tzu, who authored the ancient Chinese military treatise Art of War and British strategists such as Liddel Hart and the German General Clausewitz, while there are comparatively fewer references to indigenous works such as Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
“This is likely to be given more emphasis in strategic studies (in the future),’ the source said.
In addition, strategies enunciated in the Indian epics would also be studied in greater detail, alongside the battle tactics of Shivaji – for guerilla tactics – and Raja Raja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola – for naval warfare. There will also be a greater emphasis on Indian languages in the military, sources said.
Some of these ideas were discussed before. But, the plans and discussions have taken a renewed vigour after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while speaking at the Combined Commanders Conference in Gujarat’s Kevadia in March, talked about enhancing indigenisation in the national security system. This was not just in sourcing equipment and weapons, but also in the doctrines, procedures and customs practised in the three services.
There had also been a discussion on indianisation of traditions and culture in defence services on the first day of the three-day Conference and a separate session on the subject on the third day of the event.
Major General Birender Dhanoa (retd), however, told ThePrint that militaries world over follow a similar equipment and training pattern as required for modern warfare, while drawing on its own culture and experience, and changes in the armed forces should not be politically motivated.
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Was discussed in 2016 combat paper
A combat paper published by the Army War College, Mhow, in 2016 – titled Interpreting Ancient India’s Strategic Military Culture – took examples from the Mahabharata and Arthashastra, to correlate aspects of warfare and statecraft between the ancient and present times.
Defence sources told ThePrint that the paper had stated that “indigenous strategic thoughts and art of war found in the Arthashastra, Mahabharata and other literature are not only organic to Indian psyche, but are also relevant even in today’s context”.
It had also listed certain scriptures which could be used as a source of ancient ideas on statecraft and classical Indian military thought. This included the Dhanurveda (which talks about defence planning, tactics, constitution of defence forces, selection and training of defence personnel, military arrays, divisions of fighting, equipment, long range weapons etc).
The paper had also referred to chapter 7 of Manusmriti, stating that it deals with statecraft and rules of war, Shukra Niti (which it said refers to military aphorisms of sage Shukracharya) and the Puranas like Agni Purana, Brahma Purana and Brahmanda Purana which deals with diplomacy and theories on war.
It had also discussed the evolution of military strategy in India through the eras, and emphasised on the information warfare strategy by Kautilya, the Indian art of war and foreign policies.
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“Army needs to be careful”
Major General Birender Dhanoa (retd), however, advised caution while bringing in such changes.
Talking to ThePrint, the former Army officer said that there is a belief, not entirely unfounded – “but for reasons that aren’t what politicians have understood them to be” – that the Indian Army continues to hold on to traditions and customs which are archaic and a vestige of a colonial past, which has no place in “new India”.
He said the army has been anyway changing older norms and uniforms that are more suited to a modern India, doing away with some outdated traditions. “This is a gradual process, not very visible to outsiders,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Dhanoa said issues of officers’ messes, the divide “perceived at times” between the men and their leaders, in terms of the way a regiment system is set up, also lead to an incorrect assumption that the army clings on to colonial ideas, which is not so.
“As for doctrines and leadership examples that are Indian, we’ve been doing so for ages, while also imbibing the best practices and doctrine from others. Militaries world over follow a similar equipment and training pattern, as demands of modern war dictate so,” he said.
“But then you draw on your own culture and experiences as well, to enable the men to absorb and apply that which works for you. So we’ve been doing this in schools of instruction since ages and it is not a new idea,” he said.
He cautioned that some of these ostensibly good suggestions are “politically loaded” and that the army needs to be careful in going in one direction, just because “the flavour of the period dictates so.”
‘It must retain its apolitical character and be capable of doing what the constitution and the state ask of it, and this calls for adopting good ideas and saying a polite yet firm no to those that are not in its long-term interests,” he said.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)