UK army mulls proposal for fresh all-Sikh regiments

26 February 2015

The head of the British army is looking at proposals to recreate a Sikh regiment, a UK minister has said.

The Chief of the General Staff is examining the feasibility of a Sikh unit, including the possibility of a reserve company, and it ''may well have merit'', Mark Francois told the House of Commons earlier this week.

A new unit would inherit many of the ''proud traditions of Sikh regiments'' from the Army's past, he said.

Thousands of Sikh soldiers served in the British Army in the 19th century and in the First and Second World Wars, and 10 Victoria Crosses have been won by soldiers serving in Sikh regiments.

British regimental commanders have appreciated the skill, courage and loyalty of Sikh troops since the days of the Raj, though like the Gurkhas, they have never quite got their dues in terms of official recognition. In fact, Winston Churchill distrusted all Indian soldiers.

Reviving a Sikh unit has been suggested several times in the past. One recent attempt was abandoned in 2007 by the ministry of defence amid fears that the move would be branded racist.

Speaking during defence questions in the Commons, Conservative former defence minister Sir Nicholas Soames urged ministers to "do away with political correctness" and raise a Sikh regiment.

He told Francois, "You will be aware of the extraordinary gallant and distinguished service by Sikhs to this country down the generations.

"Would you not agree with me that it's high time to do away with the political correctness which infects some of this thinking and actually raise a Sikh regiment to serve in the country and make up a very serious gap in our Armed Forces?"

Francois, minister for the armed forces, replied, "With regard to your specific suggestion, can I say that you are one of a number of Members of Parliament who have raised this suggestion with me recently.

"We have passed this possibility on to the chief of the general staff (CGS), who is now looking at this issue and we are awaiting CGS's comments back. But the idea may well have merit."

Conservative Rory Stewart, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, suggested a Sikh company within the reserves could be explored "as a starting point".

He added, "There seems to be much more possibility within the reserves to begin what seems like an excellent idea."

In 2007, the MoD scrapped a similar plan after the Commission for Racial Equality advised it could be seen as divisive and amounted to "segregation".

The latest manning figures show the Armed Forces have around 160 Sikhs in their ranks, including 130 in the Army. Last year an official British Armed Forces Sikh Association was formed.

Lord Singh, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations, said a Sikh unit was something ''that would be nice if it happened''. But he warned it had been suggested many times and had always proved difficult.

He said, ''There aren't that many Sikhs in the Army. A regiment needs a bit more. There needs to be some enticement to go, but with all the defence cuts, the Army may not look that tempting (to Sikh soldiers).''

If the proposal goes through, it could be a somewhat rueful time for the Indian Army, which would lose some of its best potential jawans and officers to more lucrative and beneficent foreign shores.

 search domain-b