Twenty-two sitting British MPs and sons of 85 parliamentarians were killed in the First World War. Two British PMs, Herbert Henry Asquith and Andrew Bonar Law, lost their sons in the same war.
Former US Presidents Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan were all World War II veterans.Indian politicians, in contrast, have never had a military tradition. But a new breed of MPs intends to transform the stereotypical image of India’s netas, if only symbolically. Ushering in an age of ‘soldier-leaders’, six MPs are itching to shed their starched white pyjama-kurtas for olive green battle fatigues.
They want to join the Territorial Army (TA), a voluntary, part-time citizen’s army modelled on the lines of the UK territorial army.
“I grew up dreaming of becoming a soldier. You could see me in battle fatigues next year,” said Congress MP Deepender Hooda, 31, after attending a presentation on TA for MPs in the South Block on Tuesday.
An initiative to enhance the brand appeal of the reserve force by Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju, 47, more than 30 MPs across the political spectrum showed up at the Defence Ministry to figure out what it takes to be a soldier. Hooda and fellow Congress MP Naveen Jindal, 39, sought flexibility in the training schedule to encourage young guns to experience the pride of soldiering.
TA soldiers have taken part in all post-Independence wars, including Kargil. Jindal said, “I am very keen…if they reduce the training period I will join up.” The Defence Ministry is working on a proposal to grant concessions to MPs and specialists from other fields to bring them within the TA’s fold.
Major General KVS Lalhotra, who heads the TA, said, “We are sending a proposal to the Defence Ministry to create a special TA cadre.” Their annual training period is likely to be reduced from two months to 14 days. Pre-commission training will also be condensed.
The country’s youngest MP, Hamdullah Sayeed, 26, is looking forward to donning stars on his shoulder epaulets. “I went to an air force school. Joining the TA will be a natural progression.” Only males aged between 18 and 42 can join the TA. That clause put a damper on the career aspirations of Congress MP Ninong Ering, 53.
Also present were Minister of State for Water Resources Vincent Pala (41), SP’s Akhilesh Yadav (36), BJD’s Jay Panda (45), Congress’ Nilesh Rane (27), Independent member Rajeev Chandrashekhar (45), BJD’s Kalikesh Singh Deo, 34 and RJD’s Jayant Chaudhary (30).