Dear Shri Parrikar,

It was good to see your photographs interacting with air force pilots under training, in both the print and electronic media; launching the new Trainer HTT 40; and testing the ergonomics of the pilot’s seats in the Trainers!

It is this news report that set me thinking about your visits to various military units and formations. I was a little perturbed to note that you seem to have neglected visiting units and formations of the army, possibly because the army modernisation continues to languish and hence there is limited scope of inaugurating anything new, for the equipment currently in service was introduced decades back and needs no inauguration in its present state of obsolescence!

In your nearly two years in office as the Raksha Mantri of our nation, you have interacted with the navy, the air force, as also on a few occasions with the army, in that order, usually at rarefied levels. You have sailed in naval ships, including an aircraft carrier; had ‘a day at sea’ as the navy loves to call it; and have visited at least one submarine. This is good, as a defence minister should make as many visits as he can to units and formations of the field force, instead of only listening to the MoD bureaucrats and ordering committees, whose reports are rarely acted upon. Such visits also add to your image, which is oxygen for all political leaders, especially with photo-ops appearing in the media!

Since I do not see acquisitions of any new helicopters; tanks; medium artillery; air defence missiles and guns; and even the humble rifle that every soldier carries; on the horizon, for the army, photo-ops may be somewhat incongruous! However, may I suggest an apparently mundane activity, but one that is extremely important, so that you are able to witness first hand as to how the army manages to still be professionally effective, even with the ancient weaponry it is equipped with. The activity I am suggesting is the high grade training that the army imparts to its officers and soldiers. We have a very large number of training establishments, at every conceivable level for our officers, JCO’s and jawans, but perhaps the lowest level is the most important.

It may be a good idea to start visiting our training institutions and perhaps it may be best to start at the lowest level and see how the army converts rural and urban young men into effective, proud and highly capable soldiers. My suggestion, for whatever it is worth is that it may be a good idea to witness how the army trains its largest component, the infantry soldier, which has been and continues to be the cutting edge of the army. As you must be aware, the army fields over 500 infantry battalions and they are the ones who are in the forefront of all types of operations, be they war; manning the LC in J&K and the LAC on the northern borders; counter-insurgency operations; internal security duties; disaster relief; or any other duty you can think of. Despite this, their modernisation somehow remains on the back-burner and yet they deliver!

It is my suggestion that you start by visiting an infantry regiment training centre and see how gawky youngsters get transformed to professionally competent, smart and efficient soldiers, who then are ready to sacrifice even their lives for their regiment, the army and the nation.

I strongly recommend that you choose the centre of my regiment, viz. the Maratha Light Infantry Regimental Centre at Belgaum for your first visit. I am not being parochial, but there are a number of good reasons for such a selection. For starters, it is the best infantry training centre and has been adjudged so a number of times. It is also the closest to your home state and you speak the same lingo as the recruits. It is also the only regimental centre that has fought bravely in major campaigns, in its earlier ‘avatar’ of 114th Marathas, which won great laurels in the Battle of Sharqat in Mesopotamia during World War I and was made the training centre of the regiment during the reorganisation of the army in 1921. It also played a sterling role in the Liberation of Goa by organising the operational and logistics base for launching military operations to evict the Portuguese in 1961.

There is one unique and additional reason. The Regiment and specifically its seniormost battalion, the First Battalion of the Maratha Light Infantry, which is popularly known as Jangi Paltan, the nom du guerre that was awarded to it within 20 years of its raising in August 1768, for its bravery in every battle, would be celebrating its 250 years of Raising in 2018. Prior to celebrating its bicentenary (200 years of Raising) in 1968, it had volunteered to serve in the then most difficult terrain in the country, viz. the cold desert of Ladakh at forbidding heights. Siachen Glacier was not a battlefield at that time. Now, prior to celebrating its 250 years of Raising, it has again volunteered to serve in Ladakh and that too on the Siachen Glacier.

Within a year of the raising of Jangi Paltan, the Second Battalion of the Regiment, known as the Kali Panchwin was raised, and other battalions followed in succession.

I was commissioned in the Jangi Paltan; fought the 1965 India-Pakistan War with them; was part of the bicentenary celebrations in 1968, as a major with less than eight years’ service; and hope to be with them in the Sestercentinial (250 years) celebrations in 2018.

Reverting back to my suggestion, may I request you to visit our Regimental Centre at Belgaum and spend a day with the recruits; witness how they are trained in Physical Training (PT); Drill; Weapons Training, including bayonet fighting and firing; Map Reading; Education and Computer Training; Orientation Training for serving in different types of terrain; Malakhamb and other Maratha sports and games; and interact with them. It will be a proud day for the recruits under training; their Officer, JCO and NCO instructors; and indeed the entire Regiment. You will also get an intimate insight to the glorious and gallant history of one of the oldest regiments of the Indian Army. In all regiments the pride of place is accorded to symbols that are dear and inspirational for the Regiment. You will see these too and they would include the War Memorial with the statue of Chhatrapati Shiva Ji Maharaj as the centre piece astride his horse; the Centre Quarter Guard; the Officers Mess showcasing its invaluable artefacts; and of course the Regimental Museum, our heritage and the reverence with which they are preserved and handled.

However, it is the soldiers who continue to be the soul and the most valuable part of every regiment. You would be able to see them resplendent in their uniforms, with their colourful red and green hackles fluttering in the Belgaum breeze, or in combat dresses or both.

Last but not the least, as a continuation of the old adage – “the army marches on its stomach”, you will be able to partake of the delicious and unique spicy Maratha cuisine with the recruits, the NCO instructors, the JCO’s and the officers.

The present Colonel of our Regiment, Lt Gen PJS Pannu is currently serving in Army Headquarters as Director General Infantry. I am sure he would plan a visit by you at your convenience, whenever you so desire.

Do start visiting and interacting with our troops, Sir; they are the best you will find anywhere.