Resting faith in unity: The Tribune India
WITNESSING the bigotry seeping deep into our social fabric makes me sad and uneasy, and I fondly remember my unit, 27 Punjab, in which I was commissioned. At this time, infantry regiments and their units were also largely based on region and caste at the company level. In the Punjab Regiment, many units had Sikh and Dogra companies to give the soldiers a unique sense of affiliation, which further challenged them to perform well in various professional competitions at the intra-battalion level.
27 Punjab was the first unit in the Punjab Regiment where mixed class composition was applied on an experimental basis, which ultimately proved to be a smash hit. Mixed class composition had to be ruthlessly ensured for the entire battalion, down to its companies, its platoons down to the lowest echelon, the platoon level. A section has a strength of 10 jawans; he was to have three Sikh troops, three Dogra troops and three or four soldiers belonging to other Indian classes. The same was to be applied to specialized sections and platoons.
Credit for the strict implementation of this principle goes to my first three commanders with whom I had the good fortune to serve. These three illustrious personalities have given a solid foundation to 27 Punjab. No wonder, my first commander became the Adjutant General of the Indian Army, Lieutenant General Mohinder Singh. The second in command, Lt. Col. JS Sethi, kept the unit’s ethos intact under very difficult circumstances, even at the cost of staking his career, and the third in command, Brig MPS Bajwa, was credited with capturing of the most strategic feature of Tiger Hill, which turned the tide of the Kargil War in our favor. Few know that it was Brig Bajwa’s handwritten quote, inserted by him into the body pocket of a Pakistani army captain, Karnal Sher Khan, that earned him their country’s highest gallantry award. , “Nishan-e-Haider”. It takes a lot of moral courage and chivalry to recognize the bravery of the enemy. This amply proves the caliber of Indian Army commanders at all levels.
Going back to our first composition battalion of the mixed class, I remember that every Sunday in our unit, a brief religious ceremony was held, known as the “gurdwara-mandir parade”, with everyone present . As a second lieutenant, I was amazed when, for the first time, I entered the premises of the “Sarv Dharam Sthal” (all denominations under one roof) and turned my gaze towards the sanctum sanctorum. Under a majestic and well-decorated canopy were placed the idols of gods of all religions, as well as Guru Granth Sahib. It exemplifies the true spirit of India.
Being the most junior officer, I was expected to know by heart the basic hymns of all the religions to which our troops belonged. On Janamashtami, I was dispatched by my commanding officer to give a five minute briefing on Lord Krishna. The other day was Guru Nanak Dev’s birthday and I enlightened the whole battalion on what the first Sikh Guru stood for. Although there were only a few Christians, my commanding officer made sure I talked about Jesus Christ at Christmas.
Before the start of any professional event, whether it is the physical combat efficiency tests, the 40 km marches or even the tough competitions between battalions, I remember our soldiers shouting “jaikaras” (cries of war) of ‘Bole So Nihal’ and ‘Durga Mata Ki Jai’ in equal measure. “Bole So Nihal” was always led by a Hindu soldier and “Durga Mata Ki Jai” was always led by a Sikh. In fact, this kind of synergy is amply infused into the minds of soldiers as they take their oaths in their regimental centers as religious instructors of all faiths parade before them. No wonder, the Indian armed forces best represent the country’s unity in diversity and remain a beacon of hope in these difficult times.