Covid-19 is not just ravaging the world, it is also threatening the existence of the world’s only surviving horse-mounted cavalry regiment.
In this era of restructuring and cost-cutting, 61 Cavalry Regiment is on the verge of being downsized to a squadron of 232 horses. It will be based out of Delhi instead of Jaipur and will be deployed for ceremonial duties. With its stunning horses, the regiment is the show opener for all Republic Day and Army Day parades.
Army Chief General MM Naravane is studying a serious proposal to merge three in-depth recce squadrons with its tanks and personnel with the 61 Cavalry headquarters in Jaipur and raise a new armoured regiment. It is this new regiment that will carry the illustrious 61 Cavalry name.
“The 61 Cavalry is identified world over with horses. No other army has a horse-mounted cavalry anymore. The Regiment has a rich history and sporting tradition. Why do you want to change it into an Armoured Regiment with tanks?" says an officer closely following the development.
Col Billy Sodhi, the oldest surviving veteran of 61 Cavalry calls the move petty.
“Horses are lucky for any army. How much money do you think they can save by reducing 32 or 50 horses from our stables? Yes, the army needs to modernize, but some traditions need not die. A link between the past and the present needs to be kept alive,” he said.
But there are many within the Army who say the move was long overdue. They argue that a Regiment that won its glory in the Battle of Haifa (Israel) is better utilised in operations rather than ceremonials or sporting tasks.
“I am certain that the gallant Rajputs of Kachhwaha , the Jodhpur Lancers and Mysore Tigers will be happy to see the double-headed eagle (the regiment emblem) soar in preparation of war rather than stand as ceremonial lance men in Cavalry dinners and Polo matches,” says the group defending the change.
The last time the Horse Warriors were used during a war was in the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict where they undertook mounted patrol work. But it's riders are also active tank men who train for operational readiness apart from ceremonial and equestrian sport duties.
The 61 Cavalry plays a big role in keeping polo and equestrian sport in the country alive. It is the most decorated regiment in the Indian Army with one Padmashree, 11 Arjuna Awards and nine Asian Game Medals.
The key principle of the Shekatkar Committee, that was instituted to suggest ways to enhance the combat potential of the armed forces, was to replace tradition with pragmatism. Its recommendations are being closely studied and implemented by the Ministry of Defense.
The Horse Warriors aren’t riding into the sunset without a fight though. Sources say the Regiment is trying to convince the Army’s top brass that they are more than just show horses.