Eschewing vestiges of colonial legacy is a priority for the government. To this end, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has refashioned Delhi’s central vista and changed the Navy’s ensign. But the latest foray, to alter colonial-era customs and practices in the Army ran into controversy last week after a leaked document ostensibly listed several prestigious ceremonies and uniforms as part of the agenda. The Army brass has clarified that the draft agenda was premature, and no step will be taken without consultations with serving and former members of the service.
Erasing the legacies of servility and creating new customs and ceremonies is desirable. At the same time, such a project needs thoughtful deliberation. The administration and military authorities are right to ward off anxieties that customs and traditions that contribute to the Army’s regimentation, morale, and motivation will be disturbed. Any decision can only be taken after extensive deliberations with the brass, serving officers, soldiers, and veterans. Moulding legacies is a complex process fraught with difficult decisions, especially in India, which chose to adapt and reform many British-era institutions in 1947. In time, what could once be considered colonial legacy has morphed into an Indian trait (think of the English language, now as much Indian as British). In the Army, this comprises ceremonies that invoke pomp; uniforms, honours, and insignia that ignite nostalgia, patriotism, and emotion; and regiment names that may retain their colonial (and caste/community) logic of arrangement but have served India valiantly. To remake, reform or rename them must be done respectfully and after discussion.
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