Why can't there be a Karnataka Regiment?

Karnataka has contributed thousands of soldiers to the Indian army over the years which is evident from the sizeable number of ex-servicemen in the state. Yet the army has no Karnataka Regiment.

Today the Indian army has 28 infantry regiments on caste/state lines like the Rajput, Punjab, Maratha, Kumaon, Sikh LI, Sikh, Gorkha, Garwhal, Dogra, etc,. Most of these regiments were formed in the pre-independence period, except a few, which were raised after independence. Some regiments are named after the states like Assam, Madras, Nagaland and Punjab. Then prime minister Deve Gowda in early 1997 attempted to make a case for a Karnataka Regiment which did not seem to find favour with the Delhi durbar.        

Karnataka has a history of soldiering which is synonymous with different kings and dynasties who ruled these territories after the fall of the Nandas and Mauryas. In those times kings determined the boundaries of their kingdoms through wars and conquests of rival monarchs. To that extent, Karnataka has a strong track record of martial traditions to merit a Karnataka regiment if historical precedent is a determinant to do so.

These include dynasties like the Shatavahanas of Sannati in Gulbarga district and Gangas and Kadambas to the Chalukyas of Badami in Bagalkot district, Rashtrakutas of Malkhed in Gulbarga district and later Chalukyas. Followed by the Hoysalas of Dwarasamudra, Vijayanagar empire, Bahmani and Adil Shahi kingdoms of Gulbarga, Bidar and Bijapur all of which ruled Karnataka. 

The British raised the Indian army in the 18th century, which fared extremely well over the years, because of virtues like loyalty to comrades, fidelity to oath, courage, regimentation and personal honour and caste. These virtues grew slowly and uncertainly in the British Indian Army.  

Virtues of loyalty

Now the Indian Army is 1.3 million strong with adequate representation of Kannadigas, with the same virtues of loyalty to comrades, personal honour and patriotism. There is now an opportunity to come up with the raising of a strike corps. Karnataka should be allotted its share of infantry battalions (in effect a regiment). Soldiers from Karnataka have developed the virtues of a soldier, mentioned here not in the last two-three centuries, but over the last two millennia, otherwise the Vijayanagar empire and its feudatories could not have ruled in half of present India for several centuries.

The feudatories of Vijayanagar empire were Palegars of Chitradurga and Magadi and Wodeyars of Mysore who ruled later. All these kingdoms had their own armies with soldiers from their respective areas. These warrior kings fought to enlarge their kingdoms which encompassed large portions of neighbouring states up to Gujarat, Maharastra, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Besides, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan in south Karnataka had their own armies which were designed on the European lines.

 Karnataka has acknowledged martial communities like the Bunts of Tulunadu (Udupi, south Kanara and Kasargod,) Kodavas of Coorg district, Kshatriya Komarpanth speaking old Kannada in areas adjoining Goa and Goa state itself. Currently, the youth of military age who qualify from Karnataka are enrolled either in the Madras Regiment, Maratha Regiment or Madras Engineer Group or the Parachute Regiment; besides, other arms like the artillery and Signals and services like the ASC, medical corps, ordnance or military police. Instead, these youth could be enrolled into the Karnataka Regiment. Employment in the army as a soldier is much sought after in rural areas of North India. A Karnataka Regiment will similarly benefit the state’s backward regions. The Karnataka government should organise training camps for recruitment into the army in various districts.

Once the political class of Karnataka comprehends the employment potential, then they would automatically push for a Karnataka Regiment. The problem is that the political class is militarily illiterate and therefore not aware of the advantages that would accrue from the creation of a new Karnataka Regiment. This will also give pride to Kannadigas that they are a martial race and have representation in the army. Clearly the martial traditions of Karnataka are no less inferior to those of  Punjab, Rajasthan, UP, or any other state who are represented. If the army could have regiments named after states like Assam, Bihar or Punjab then why not a Karnataka Regiment?

If the army does not find it feasible to raise an exclusive Karnataka Regiment immediately, it is suggested that a few Karnataka battalions with the composition of martial races in keeping with the traditions of the army be raised under the Madras Regiment or the Maratha LI. These units can be clubbed into an exclusive Karnataka Regiment, till such time a full-fledged regiment is raised.

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