Among all battalions of the Rajput Regiment, 17 Rajput has a unique place in present day history of the Indian Army. It was raised during the period of Quit India Movement in 1942. It was also among 10 other Rajput Battalions that were raised following outbreak of World War-II between 1940 to 1943.
In so far as its historical significance is concerned, 17/7 Rajput as it was then known, was the only ‘War Raising’ battalion by any Indian Officer who was none other than Lt Col KM Cariappa, OBE, popularly called ‘Kipper’ who went on to become the first Indian Commander-in-Chief and later the Chief of Army Staff. He was also conferred the highest rank of Field Marshal on April 28, 1986.
Popular in the army as the Barhe Chalo battalion, a motto coined by the first commanding officer to spur his troops, it was meant to convey ‘get cracking on’. The battalion continues to crack on regardless in pursuit of glory as one of Indian Army’s proudest and finest fighting outfits in recent times.
17/7 Rajput was raised at Fatehgarh on April 15, 1942 as the Machine Gun Battalion of the erstwhile 7th Rajput Regiment. A distinctive colour of maroon and blue was adopted for the new outfit. On August 1, 1942, the battalion was converted into a Regiment of Indian Armoured Corps (IAC) and designated 52nd Rajput Regiment IAC (Bawanja Risala) and moved to Lahore.
On September 15, 1942, the battalion was converted into a ‘Lorried Battalion’ and moved to Secunderabad to form part of 268th Lorried Brigade. On March 16, 1943, Kipper was transferred and succeeded by Lt Col G.B. Macnamara. In May 1944, 17/7 Rajput moved to Kohima and later deployed at Imphal.
Informed readers may know that Rajput Regiment is one among the senior most regiments of our country. It must therefore, logically, rank higher in the hierarchy of the nomenclatures. Then why the seventh standing?
Evidently, Maj Gen Parr, who had commanded the 7th Rajput in Mesopotamia during World War-I desired that the Regiment to which his battalion belonged be named 7th Rajput Regiment. The suffix ‘7’ was adopted and remained so for all battalions of the Rajput Regiment between 1920 till Independence, where after it was dropped altogether.
In the redesignations that followed, Barhe Chalo became 17th Battalion of the Rajput Regiment on May 1, 1948. Later when its founding father, Lt Gen KM Cariappa became Army Chief on January 15, 1950 (commemorated as Army Day), an honour was bestowed on the battalion. The distinct maroon and royal blue hackle of the unit was now adopted by all Rajput Regiment battalions.
In 1965, Barhe Chalo participated in Op Riddle as part of 7th Infantry Division, where it successfully executed its task of capturing Bedian bridge. The unit also participated in Op Cactus Lily in 1971 as part of 86 Infantry Brigade in Dera Baba Nanak sector, where it captured Khokherke and Sadhuwan posts of enemy and provided a firm base for Op Akal. The unit was also successful in capturing a crucial enemy post for which Capt Nawal Singh Rajawat and Late Sep Satyawan Singh were awarded VrC.
In 1982, the battalion underwent a change in class composition and reorganised to include Rajputs, Gujjars, Brahmins, Bengalis, Jats, Ahirs and Muslims in equal percentage composition. If ever anyone needs to see the secular credentials of an Indian Army’s fighting unit, one need not go Bajrang Bali ki Jay! Hanuman ki Hunkare! – yelled by one and all can easily curl any enemy’s guts.
The battalion was also the first unit of Rajput Regiment to be inducted in Siachen Glacier in 1991. The unit had a successful tenure without having a single fatal casualty, which indeed is an unique achievement.
Among the wars and major operations that Barhe Chalo participated include World War-II, between May to August 1944, Indo-Pak War of 1965 between September 1965 to February 1966 and Indo-Pak War 1971, between October to December 1971. Among the various military operations include Operatons Orchid, Rhino, Vijay, Rakshak and Parakram.
Glory to the Barhe Chalo has been brought through its gallant officers and soldiers through two Military Crosses , an OBE and PVSM each, 7 Kirti Chakras, an AVSM, 4 Shaurya Chakras, 3 Vir Chakras, 12 Sena Medals, 3 VSM, 6 Mention-in-Despatches, 38 COAS, 7 VCOAS and 33 GOC-in-C Commendation Cards including several other gallantry certificates.
The battalion is presently serving at an undisclosed high altitude location standing vigil under Eastern Command. The Barhe Chalo battalion is presently being commanded by Colonel Balbir Singh Siwach, a second-generation army officer, commissioned in December 1990.
Gp Capt Tarun Kumar Singha VSM &
Bar is the CPRO (Def) at Kolkata
Photo courtesy: 17 Rajput archives