At the outset, I would like to admit that the account that follows is neither a history of the Regiment nor a resume of all events that took place during my innings in the Army from 1964-2007, but a recounting of some important aspects or events related to our great Regiment which have left an impact on my mind. On my being commissioned from the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun in 1964, my grandfather, a veteran of the First World War asked me, ‘Son, which Regiment did you get?’ When he was told that it was the Maratha Light Infantry, he was very pleased; his response was, the Marathas are a very brave, tough and hardy race.
For the Mahrattas (as they were then known) , the Mesopotamian campaign was an epoch-making and a historical phase of their impressive and ancient martial tradition of bearing arms. As a mark of honour for the Regiment’s impressive display of gallantry, steadiness, and ability to withstand the harsh battlefield conditions and severedeprivations and outstanding performance during World War I, it was bestowed with the title of ‘Light Infantry’.
From my grandfathers’ stories of the Great War, we understood the severe service conditions and the plight of the average Indian Army soldier and Viceroy Commissioned Officer, fighting for the British Empire in far off places, and across the seas. These gallant men served not for the money, but lived and died for Naam, Nishaan, Namak, Dastur and Izzat [name, the Colours, salt (loyalty), tradition and honour] of their Regiment.
During World War II the Regiment did well in all theatres. After successful blooding in North Africa, three of our battalions, the Jangi Paltan, 3/5 Mahrattas, and the 5th Royal (converted into a machine gun battalion) were pitted against the Germans. In the advance from the southern tip of Italy to the Alps, the 1st, 3rd and 5th Battalions in particular, excelled and made history. On the eastern front the 4th, 6th and the 17th Battalions ranged against the Japanese, distinguished themselves. It was on the Italian front that the Marathas rose to great heights and displayed unparalleled gallantry. The highest award for gallantry, a Victoria Cross each was earned in this campaign by Naik Yeshwant Ghatge (Posthumous) and Sepoy Namdeo Jadhav of the 3rd (presently the 2 Para SF) and 1st Battalions respectively.
One of the most amazing souvenir of the Marathas during World War II was presented by Mrs Wynn Hargreaves in London, ‘in loving memory’ of her husband Major Harry Hargreaves of ‘Kali Panchwin’ of our Regiment- a priceless collection of four coloured portraits of Maratha Viceroy Commissioned Officers made by Colonel R H Boulter in a German POW Camp at Brunswick in 1944. What makes these outstanding crayon portraits historical and exceptional is that they were made on the reverse-side of German office file-covers, and very caringly preserved for over half a century by the Hargreaves.
Few among us can recall the historical fact that the Marathas were given the prestigious assignment of protecting the Indian Trade Mission at Lhasa, Shigatse and Yatung in Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Just prior to our Independence, ‘A’ Company of 4 Maratha LI under Major Pearson had the privilege to be stationed at Lhasa for a year. Subsequently, in the mid 1950s, ‘Y’ Company of Jangi Paltan under Captain NPP Thorat was tasked to be deployed in Tibet.
The year 1968 was historic in many ways. The Regiment celebrated its bicentenary, held the third post-war reunion, and a ceremonial parade in honour of Dr Zakir Hussain, the Supreme Commander of our Armed Forces and the President of India. This has been the only occasion when we have been honoured by a presidential visit. For me it was a landmark occasion to have been nominated to receive the Colours for 9 Maratha Light Infantry.
The Maratha Light Infantry has made an invaluable contribution to the defence of our nation ever since we attained our Independence. During the Kashmir War in 1947-48, the performance of 2 Para (Marathas) brought great glory to our Regiment. During the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak Wars, the operational performance of all Maratha Battalions was exemplary and highly praiseworthy. In the 1965 Conflict, the performance of 2 Maratha in the defence of Hussainiwala Headworks, 6 Maratha in the battle of Chawinda (although they suffered heavy casualties), and that of 19 Maratha LI in the battle of Thatti Jaimal Singh stood out. The Kolhapuris demonstrated great valour, leadership of a high order and achieved a stellar victory that they celebrate with pride. They were awarded four Vir Chakras and many other decorations in this battle.
During the next war in December 1971, 1 Maratha LI (Jangi Paltan), 5 Maratha LI (Royal), 7 Maratha LI, 19 Maratha LI (Kolhapur), 20 Maratha LI, 22 Maratha LI (Hyderabadis) displayed great audacity, courage and valour in the finest traditions of our Regiment were instrumental in the decisive victory achieved in the Eastern theatre by the Indian Army. The brilliantly executed outflanking action of Jangi Paltan in Jamalpur is indeed an excellent case study, wherein the ‘Surprise’ principle of war got resoundingly highlighted. This battle and 1 Maratha’s victory has been handsomely acknowledged by 31 Baluch battalion of Pakistan Army, many of whose soldiers perished or became prisoners of war.
In the Western theatre, 15 Maratha LI captured Burj in a fearless attack and Sepoy Pandurang Salunke was awarded the MVC.
The Marathas have consistently shown their remarkable prowess in counter-insurgency operations in the north-east and J&K. There are countless examples of officers and men who have done the Regiment proud through their deeds of valour. Battalions have made countless sacrifices to maintain the territorial integrity of the country and peace in disturbed areas, despite difficult conditions, which made mere survival a challenge.
During 2001-07 the period when the mantle of Colonel of the Regiment was on my shoulders, I focused on policy decisions for the good of the Regiment and improvements of the infrastructure and accommodation in the Regimental Centre at Belgaum and regimental assets at other locations. Based on historical research and deliberations and importantly, with the consensus of the entire Regiment we reverted to the custom of wearing our green lanyard around the left shoulder, except the 5th Battalion which continues to wear the royal blue lanyard as before. Besides that, we introduced the black pouch belt to be worn on ceremonial occasions.
Affiliation of the Maratha Light Infantry with the Navy, Air Force and the Bombay Engineering Group took place during my tenure as the Colonel. Affiliation with the Coast Guard took place later.
INS Mumbai, one of our latest warships- a state-of-the-art guided missile destroyer, with the motto ‘I am invincible’ was affiliated to our Regiment in an awe inspiring ceremony on board the vessel on 30 January 2003. ‘The occasion was an apt reminder of the naval prowess of Shivaji’s Marathas and exploits of Admiral Kanhoji Angre. The domination of the West coast from Mumbai to Vengurla by the Maratha warriors at sea laid the foundation of a rich tradition of valour enshrined in countless sacrifices of sailors in wars’, was the essence of my address on the occasion. In his rousing reply Captain Kalaskar said, ‘INS Mumbai is extremely proud to be affiliated with the Maratha Light Infantry whose glorious history dates back to 1768. The Regiment’s association with the Navy and, more specifically, with the ship named ‘Bombay’ is equally old. It was the First Battalion of the Regiment, the Jangi Paltan that saw action together with East India Company’s ship, Bombay way back in 1769. Also in 1943, the Royal Navy renamed a fleet destroyer HMS Marksman as HMS Mahratta in honour of the Maratha Light Infantry.’
On 30th November 2006 we got affiliated with the 20th Squadron IAF, nicknamed the ‘Lightning’, which is located at Pune. This time the ceremony was conducted at our Regimental Centre in Belgaum, which included a joint Guard of Honour, exchange of trophies and an address by me and Air Marshal TS Randhawa the Commodore Commandant of the 20th Squadron. The affiliation with the Bombay Engineering Group took place during their bi-centenary celebrations in 2006 at their Centre in Kirkee.
A Regiment which could move at lightning speed carry out an outflanking manoeuvre and take the objective from the most difficult and unexpected direction, could in peace-time never be the best marching contingent during the Republic Day Parade or so was the belief that we grew up with. Line regiments of tall soldiers with colourful pugrees and other accoutrements, marching with a swagger at 120 steps a minute, were difficult to match. We took up the challenge and with a focussed and determined approach combined with a lot of practice and preparation our performance began to shoot up. Taller Marathas sporting a smart pugree with a tinge of red facing and the regimental crest and a cummerbund of red, black and grey stripes marching sprightly as a compact body took the RD Parade by storm. The Marathas had arrived! We were adjudged the best marching contingent during 2006-07, and it was my privilege as the COAS to hand over the trophy to our Contingent. This prowess has only been strengthened since then. Our chests were justifiably filled with pride to see the Maratha Light Infantry contingent leading the Bastille Day Parade on the Champs Elysses on the National Day of France, 14 July 2009- a historic first for any Indian Army contingent.
The wiry and hardy Marathas have also shown their mettle in mountaineering and adventure sports too. During my tenure as the Army Chief, the successful Army Everest Expedition was led by Lieutenant Colonel I.J. Thapa, SM from 4 Maratha LI and had a majority of team members from our Regiment. Four of them from our Regiment, including Major DJ Singh, climbed the summit of Everest along with eight other mountaineers. It was one of my foremost objectives as the Chief, and was very elated by the spectacular success of our Expedition.
Over the years we can proudly claim that our Centre has done a yeoman service for close to a century. We have had very outstanding Centre Commandants and the credit goes to them for producing first rate warriors. Belgaum has also been developed as a training node for joint training with foreign armies as part of military to military cooperation. Many facilities of the MLIRC are made use of during such joint training.
We take great pride in our Silver Band. Composed of discerningly selected, talented, widely travelled and a highly dedicated band of musicians, the Maratha Regiment Silver Band has earned kudos all over India and in many foreign countries as well.
Facing the challenges of war, no war no peace or peace-time shoulder to shoulder with the magnificent Marathas, one of the finest soldiers in the Indian Army, has been a unique privilege for all of us who have served in the Maratha Light Infantry. Each one of us carries memories of our experiences and we continue to maintain the bonds of camaraderie forever as we fade away and make place for the new generation. On my superannuation I was appointed as the Honorary Colonel of the Regiment for life by the Government like other former army chiefs, and my service to the Regiment continues.
The author is a former Chief of the Army Staff and Governor Arunachal Pradesh