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President's Bodyguard in for tough times

Josy Joseph in New Delhi | October 20, 2003 17:29 IST

The Indian Army's elite President's Bodyguard -- four of whose troopers have been charged with the gang rape of a college girl -- are in for tough times.
Also see: President's horsemen arrested on rape charge

In an expression of his displeasure, President A P J Abdul Kalam has indefinitely postponed a ceremony to present the unit with his silver trumpet and trumpet banner. The army, on its part, is working on a strategy to send members of the President's Bodyguard to the field, including counter-insurgency operations.

The President's Bodyguard is the cynosure of all eyes at major national ceremonies. But the gang rape in the capital's Buddha Jayanti Park on October 6 has raised questions about the elite unit's discipline.

According to senior army officers, the President has 'indefinitely postponed' the function to honour the President's Bodyguard. The postponement was to "facilitate the ongoing inquiry" into the crime, a senior army officer told rediff.com

The army is also working on a plan to send President's Bodyguard troopers, now posted permanently at Rashtrapati Bhavan, to tough operational areas.

"The process is going on to give exposure to all troops from all formations to field, including counter-insurgency areas, and operational locations," army spokesman Colonel Anil Shorey said.

According to sources, Army Headquarters is examining the possibility of sending a platoon each of the President's Bodyguard to field, "in all likelihood to Kashmir and the northeast" on rotation.

For such a deployment, the army would need to increase the number of troops in the President's Bodyguard and raise more reserves.

President's Bodyguard troopers have to meet several criteria, including a minimum height of six feet and good horse riding skills.

Once President's Bodyguard troopers are deployed in the field, they would be given a four-week mandatory pre-induction training for counter-insurgency operations. When they return "they would be given the re-entry training."

The President's Bodyguard has four officers, 14 junior commissioned officers and 161 soldiers.

A proposal to send these troops for active duty was suggested in the 1980s, but was shelved after arguments that ceremonial duties at Rashtrapati Bhavan would suffer.

The President's Bodyguard's badge is the national emblem held aloft on an open parachute supported by crossed lances.

While the parachute signifies their airborne role, the lances stand for their cavalry capability. This is the only unit in the army that carries the national colour and regimental standard during ceremonies.

They also have the honour of carrying the President's silver trumpet and trumpet banner.

Raised in 1773 by the then Governor of Bengal, Warren Hastings, in Banaras, the regiment was earlier called the Governor General's Troop of Moghuls and later the Governor General's Bodyguard.

In 1950, it was designated as the President's Bodyguard.

The army's senior-most unit it gets precedence over all others and is always positioned on the right of the line in all ceremonies and parades.

In World War I, it was deployed in the Middle East and Mesopotamia, and later trained as paratroopers to join the airborne division.

Till Independence, the President's Bodyguard consisted of Jats, Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims in equal numbers, but after Partition the unit has an equal composition of Jats, Sikhs and Rajputs. Its officers are deputed from other armoured regiments.

The President's Bodyguard was airlifted to Chushul in the 1962 war with China. In the 1965 war with Pakistan, they were deployed on the Western Front.

They have also done active duty on the Siachen glacier, and on UN peacekeeping missions in Angola and Somalia.
The President's Bodyguard also served on the Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka.

Also see: Army chief promises stern action against rapists


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