Indianization of Indian Army - [August 25, 1917] This Day in History

On 25 August 1917, seven Indians serving in the Army were granted the King’s Commission. Previously, Indian officers could only be Indian Commissioned Officers (ICO) or Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers (VCO). A King’s Commissioned Indian Officer (KCIO) was equal in every respect to British officers holding a King’s Commission and even had authority over British troops, unlike the other commissioned officers.

This article will give you details about this event within the context of the IAS Exam.

Soldiers in the British Indian Army

Indianisation of Indian Army – Background

  • Indianisation of the army refers to employing more Indians in the army in senior positions and higher ranks. Though there were Indian officers in the British Indian Army before, their promotional avenues were restricted and they were not treated on par with their British counterparts.
  • The idea of having Indian officers in the army was first raised by Sir Henry Lawrence in 1844 as a measure to retain Indian sepoys in the military. The idea was to prevent the soldiers from rendering their services to the princely states.
  • Even in the 1880s when the nationalist movement was in its nascent stages, there were demands of having Indian officers in the army.
  • The counter-argument to the idea revolved around two points:
  1. Were Indians capable of assuming leadership positions in the army and whether they had the same aptitude for it as Britons?
  2. Whether such a move would be detrimental to British rule in India?
  • But Indian nationalists were constantly demanding better positions for Indians in the administration of their own country and the army was no exception.
  • However, the loyalty of Indians in the First World War and the exemplary service rendered by Indian soldiers and officers in the army during the war forced the British to take heed of the legitimate demands of the Indians in this regard.
  • In this war, 1.3 million Indians were recruited to the British Indian Army.
  • Edwin Montague, the Secretary of State for India from 1917 to 1922 opined that a certain number of commissions were to be given to Indians in the army. He believed that there should be no discrimination either in the army or in the civil services.
  • British General Lord Rawlinson also was of the opinion that the army should be Indianised.
  • However, Lord Frederick Roberts and Sir Claude Auchinleck (Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army in 1941) were against Indianisation.
  • In 1901, Lord Curzon established the Imperial Cadet Corps (ICC) with the aim of providing military education and special officer commissions to young men from royal and aristocratic families in India. The ICC was disbanded in 1915 owing to ambiguity in its purpose.
  • On 20 August 1917, it was proclaimed that Indians would now be eligible for King’s Commissions.
  • The first KCIOs were selected from among Indians who had fought in the war and belonged to the martial races of India.
  • Ten seats were reserved for Indians in the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, UK.
  • The ‘Eight Unit Scheme of Indianisation’ was announced in 1923 according to which only 8 units of the army were selected for Indianisation.
  • Among the first batch of KCIOs was Field Marshall KM Cariappa who later became the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army after independence. In 1942, he had also become the first Indian to command a battalion in the army when he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 7th Rajput Machine Gun Battalion.
  • The British effort at Indianisation was slow and never complete. After independence, Indian officers became automatically eligible for higher ranks in the army.

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Also on this day 

1825: Uruguay declared independence from Brazil. 1948: Jana Gana Mana made the provisional national anthem by the Constituent Assembly. 1990: National Security Council formed by the government of India. 1997: Cabinet approved the draft of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) which was to replace the draconian Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA).

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