Prince battles for Sikh regiment in army

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The Independent Online

Highly controversial plans to raise a Sikh regiment within the British army has pitched the Prince of Wales into conflict with the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The MoD believes that such a force would be divisive and immensely difficult to organise, even though the proposal has the support of some past and present senior officers.

The Prince, colonel-in-chief of a number of regiments, has taken a keen interest in ethnic minority recruitment and is known to have lobbied for a separate Sikh regiment in meetings with General Sir Charles Guthrie, while he was chief of defence staff.

Leaders of Britain's half a million Sikhs think the Royal backing significantly boosts their chances of a regiment of their own. They say such an unit will be no different from the Scots, Welsh and Irish Guards or the Gurkhas, and there will be no shortage of young recruits from a community that prides itself on its martial heritage.

Sikhs have fought for the Crown, from Flanders to Burma, as part of the old British Indian army, with a large number winning decorations for gallantry. They continue to play a central role within the Indian Army and have produced several of the country's chiefs of staff.

Mohan Singh Gill, one of a group of former servicemen campaigning for the setting up of a regiment, said "The army has a shortfall in recruits and we have young men to fill that. We have a warrior tradition and nothing to prove if you look at our record."

Harbinder Singh Rana, the chairman of the Maharaja Duleep Singh Sikh Centenary Trust, said "The army should do this because we have a legacy of military achievement with this country. I could give the army 280 names tomorrow."

Outside consultants brought in by the MoD to attract ethnic recruits have also rejected the Prince's proposals and advised against forming such an unit.

The MoD points out that a Sikh regiment will be a religious one. There are also logistical problems. There are currently only six Sikh officers and 18 other ranks out of the Army's 105,000 personnel, which would make it impossible to form a purely Sikh officer corps.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "The Prince of Wales is very interested in the matter of recruitment from ethnic minorities. He believes there should be a debate on this issue and that, of course, includes the Sikhs with their martial traditions."

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