What do actor Mohanlal, Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Congress politician Sachin Pilot have in common? It’s not a trick question: all three are members of the Indian Territorial Army.
Originally raised by the British through the Indian Territorial Act of 1920, the Territorial Army was officially inaugurated after Independence on 9 October 1949 by the first Indian governor general, C. Rajagopalachari.
The Territorial Army consists of volunteers who receive limited military training so that their services can be utilised in the event of an emergency that includes defence of the country.
In Britain, the Territorial Force was formed in 1908 and had a combined strength of more than 250,000. Its personnel served in places that were part of the British Empire, such as Egypt and India. This freed regular units who could now serve in France during World War I. Later, the Territorial Force was renamed the Territorial Army. Today, of the overall strength of the British Army, 25 percent are from the volunteer active-duty reservist force.
The history of the Indian Territorial Army, on the other hand, can be traced back to as early as the late 1860s, when the Railways set up infantry battalions for the purpose of internal security. The Indian Territorial Force Act was passed in 1920. Within 15 years the Indian Territorial Force had more than 15,000 men.
Before 1947 the Indian Territorial Army had two wings — the Auxiliary Force for Europeans and Anglo-Indians, and the Indian Territorial Force for Indian volunteers. Today, the Indian Territorial Army is considered to be a second line of defence after the regular Army, and is meant for persons who are already employed elsewhere.
The Territorial Army earlier had units such as armoured regiments, infantry battalions and air defence, but by the early 1970s most were disbanded or made into regular Army units.
Territorial Army units played an active role in the 1962 India-China war, as well as in the 1965 and 1971 conflicts with Pakistan. They have also taken part in operations in Sri Lanka, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, and the North East. Other than that, units have helped civic administrations at the time of natural disasters, and helped in environmental causes.
The Territorial Army currently has around 40,000 first-line troops, and another estimated 1.5 lakh second-line troops. Departmental Territorial Army units include the ones attached to the Railways, Indian Oil Corporation, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, etc.
Infantry training in the Territorial Army is based on urban and provincial systems. Urban systems include recruit and annual training. Training usually happens on weekends and holidays. Four hours of training constitutes a day. Annual Training is for a minimum of one month. It can be extended to two months.
In Post Commission Training, officers have to undergo ten weeks' training within two years of being commissioned. Former officers from the regular Army or Short Service Commission may be exempted if the commanding officer agrees. Trainee volunteers also have the option of undergoing additional military training. For this, they need the written consent of the employer.
Provincial systems of training are also further divided into recruit training, annual training, post commission training and voluntary training.
Someone joining the Railways has to give an undertaking that he will be available to serve in the Territorial Army for up to 12 years. Volunteers serving with non-departmental units in infantry are between 18 and 42 years. While urban units are usually trained during weekends, rural ones are trained for two months in a year.
Many prominent Indians have been a part of the Territorial Army.
Cricketing legend Kapil Dev was commissioned into the Territorial Army as an honorary lieutenant colonel in 2008. “I served the country in a different manner earlier. I already have the passion to serve the country,” he said on the occasion. “Maybe that was the first innings and this is the second innings. I would like to serve as best as I can.”
In 2011 Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra were conferred an honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorial Army.
“It’s a real honour, as I always wanted to be part of the Indian Army. It’s something that I always wanted to achieve as a kid and now that I have donned the Olive Greens, my dream has been fulfilled,” a proud Dhoni said.
In September 2012, Sachin Pilot became the first union minister to be commissioned as a regular officer in the Territorial Army. “It has been my desire to join the army for very long as I wanted to have my links with the armed forces like my father and grandfather,” the young parliamentarian said on the occasion.
Overall, the Territorial Army has in its long history left its mark both during war and peace. It’s also a great medium for civilians to become a part of the glory and tradition of the Indian Army.
Also on this day:
1897 — Minjur Bhaktavatsalam, freedom fighter and chief minister of Madras state, was born
1987 — Guru Gopinath, Kathakali legend, passed away
2006 — Kanshi Ram, founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party, passed away