One of the Indian Army’s infantry regiments is about to get receive a well-deserved honour.
Sometime later this month, President Pranab Mukherjee will present the Ladakh Scouts with the President’s Colours, an honour reserved for regiments that have provided exemplary service.
The Ladakh Scouts were born in the fires of the first Kashmir war. When infiltrators from Pakistan slipped into Kargil. As Ajai Shukla notes, part of the Indian response was to the incursion was to form a local militia in Leh. Among the volunteers was a 17-year old Chewang Rinchen, who joined the newly raised Nubra Guards.
It was from this unpromising nucleus that the Ladakh Scouts were formed. The Nubra Guards acquitted themselves well during the war. Rinchen himself would go on to lead an extraordinary career in the Indian Army, one that seems to belong more in adventure fiction than in real life. He would distinguish himself in the 1962 war with China and the 1971 war in Pakistan. Rinchen was awarded two Mahavir Chakras (the Army’s second-highest honour) over the course of his service and retired a colonel.
Perhaps the best known figure from the Ladakh Scouts today is Colonel Sonam Wangchuk. During the Kargil War in 1999, he briefly became a household name for his actions in Batalik, which would earn him a Mahavir Chakra.
In 2001, the Ladakh Scouts finally went from being a paramilitary unit to a full-fledged army regiment. Its journey however, is not unique. Instead, the story of the Ladakh Scouts belongs to a tradition dating back to the British Indian Army- of ad hoc units raised during war time slowly becoming crack units- just think of the Khyber Rifles or Corp of Guides in what is today the Pakistan Army or Skinner’s Horse on this side of the border. The Ladakh Scouts are a recent addition to this tradition, but probably not the last.