The Territorial Army is transforming from a Citizen’s force to the Army’s Army
Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
The scorching June afternoon gradually turns dusty as the hot air from the Aravallis start blowing across the Delhi Ridge. Those who can, cover their faces, but the young recruits carry on with their training routine, unmindful of the debilitating effect of the weather. A group of young enthusiasts is running along the dirt track with their rucksacks, while another group is training on the obstacle’s course and in another part of the ridge mock firing is going on, adding to the already rising dust. With a sweeping glance, Col K.S. Rathore, Commanding Officer, 105 Infantry Battalion Territorial Army, affiliated to Rajputana Rifles, asks in a manner that does not require an answer, “Can you tell the difference between the regular infantry recruits of Raj Rif and the TA boys?” Following his gaze — Raj Rif recruits running along one side and TA recruits jumping across the ditch — you understand what he means.
In the last few years, since the 2002 Operation Parakram to be precise, the Infantry wing (or the non-departmental) of the Territorial Army, referred to as the Citizen’s Army, is increasing becoming the army’s army. Not just in terms of training but also tasking. This has also changed the profile of the force, which is likely to get more and more full-time. Already citizens who are joining the TA are not always gainfully employed (a pre-condition earlier), and seek a career in the force, unlike the past when volunteers came only for the mandatory two-months training in a year at the Annual Training Camp (ATC) and went back to their primary jobs as TA did not offer permanent employment. The volunteers drew the TA salary and all the other benefits of the regular army only during their embodiment (mobilisation) period (when they were called for the ATC). One major, who joined the TA as he could not clear the UPSC examination for the army considers TA as his career. People like him prefer to remain embodied forever simply because of the shortage of officers they get transferred from one embodied unit to another. And given the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, it is unlikely that all the units of TA will get disembodied in a hurry. “I have already done seven years of embodied service,” he says. “I wouldn’t know what to do if I am ever disembodied.”
This is the dilemma facing most TA officers. If they remain embodied for a long period, which is what is happening, how are they supposed to remain gainfully employed? Which employer will give indefinite leave to their employees? Moreover, who would account for the loss of career prospects for a person who chooses to stay on indefinite leave from work? Maj. Gen. S.S. Ahlawat, Additional Director General, TA, who took over on 7 May 2004, concedes this dichotomy when he says, “The TA was envisaged as a low-cost option to add to the army reserves but today it is being tasked more and more like a regular army. Since the officers and men are embodied for an indefinite period, it is clear that they cannot hold other regular jobs.”
Though, theoretically, nothing much has changed, in practice the TA has come a long way since its first raising in independent India by C. Rajagopalachary, the first Indian Governor General in October 1949. Then it was envisaged as a force comprising conscientious citizens to act as reserves for the army during a time of crisis, such as war or internal strife. The TA in India was first raised in 1857, in the aftermath of the first war of independence, as ‘Volunteers’ recruited from within the European and Anglo-Indian communities. Later the name changed to Indian Defence Force. In 1920, the government passed the Indian Territorial Force bill which reorganised the force into two wings, the Auxiliary Force comprising only Europeans and Anglo-Indians and the Indian Territorial Force which recruited Indians. Post Independence, the Territorial Army Act was passed in October 1948 and the present force was raised.
Over the years, as the roles for the TA kept increasing it was divided into non-departmental (combat), departmental and ecological battalions. The ecological and a few departmental battalions remained embodied for nearly eight months. Today, there are a total of 19 departmental TA units, which includes five Ecological Task Force battalions, three Railway and Oil Sector TA units each, seven General Hospital TA units and a single Telecommunication TA unit. All the TA battalions have a certain percentage of regular army officers and men depending upon their tasking. And nearly all of them train with the regular army units at the respective regimental centres. While for some, TA is turning out to be the only career, for others, like the chairman and managing director, Oil and Natural Gas Commission, Subir Raha, TA offers an opportunity to indulge in his passion even as he pursues his career goals.
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