It’s a historic day for a historic regiment of the Indian Army: the first time a contingent of the Nine Grenadiers regiment will march in an international military parade, as part of Russia’s Victory Day commemoration.
The 75-member contingent has been practising at an army facility outside Moscow since April 25, and will be part of 10 militaries, including Russia’s Red Army and China’s PLA, to take part in the May 9 parade. While Russia marks the day each year for the defeat of Hitler’s army in 1945, this year is special as it is the 70th anniversary, and President Pranab Mukherjee is one of about 16 presidents expected to attend the parade.
At six feet in their ‘safas’ or turban headgear, the Grenadiers, with their long and twirled moustaches, will cut a distinctive figure in the parade. Their uniforms are also more traditional, in tune with their home States of Haryana and Rajasthan. Their officers tell The Hindu that their marching style also stands out as the armies of Russia, China, Mongolia, Serbia and other countries normally goose-step and don’t swing their arms. “If there was a trophy for the best and most popular contingent, we would win it hands down,” laughs their commander Col. Digvijay Singh.
Col. Digvijay Singh says it is a moment of “great pride” to have been chosen to take part in the function. Asked whether it would be awkward for them to march along with the Chinese Army that India fought a war with 50 years ago this year, he says: “Not at all. We are two professional armies, who will be marching for the same cause under our respective flags.”
Col. Digvijay Singh says each of the men marching in columns of eight by eight has been hand-picked, and put through extra marching drills for the past six months. Interestingly, if there has been a cause for unease, it has been over the food in Russia, as the Grenadiers are traditionally vegetarian, and they say their Russian hosts have had to go to considerable lengths to arrange vegetarian food for them. The first Grenadiers battalion was raised in 1775, and they took part in the British war against French forces in Egypt in 1801.