London, Feb 24:
British legislators are examining proposals to create a new British Sikh regiment like those which fought for the country in the two World Wars, according to media reports Tuesday.
Former defence minister Nicholas Soames said in parliament Monday that the government should “do away with political correctness”, and praised “the extraordinary gallant and distinguished service by (the) Sikhs, to this country down the generations”, according to a Daily Mail report.
Tory legislator and chairman of the defence select committee, Rory Stewart, asked armed forces minister Mark Francois to look at a Sikh company within the reserves “as a starting point”.
Francois said he believed the plan, which was dropped by the ministry of defence in 2007 for fear of being branded racist, “may well have merit”.
Stewart went on to reveal that the suggestion was being “looked at”, saying the proposed regiment would inherit many “proud traditions of Sikh regiments” from the army’s past.
In 2007, defence chiefs abandoned plans to create a regiment of British Sikhs after talks with the Commission for Racial Equality.
Sikh leaders informed recruitment officers that they could easily find enough volunteers to form a 700-strong regiment.
However, Freddie Viggers, who was responsible for recruitment at the time, is understood to have accepted the race commissioners’ argument that creating the regiment would amount to “segregation”.
Leaders of Britain’s 500,000-strong Sikh community were supportive of the idea of a new regiment, arguing that it would be no different from the Scots, Welsh and Irish Guards, or the Royal Gurkha Rifles, which recruits exclusively from Nepal and which is regarded as a model infantry regiment.
The decision to shelve the plans was at the time criticised by politicians, members of the Sikh community and soldiers, who claimed that the British army had fallen victim to political correctness.
“The Sikhs have a long and distinguished heritage of serving with the British army,” Kuljit Singh Gulati, the general secretary of the Sikh Temple in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, said.
“I know there are many, many Sikhs who would join up and would serve wherever required. But if you want to get them in large numbers they need their own regiment, something they would take a huge amount of pride in,” he said.
Prince Charles had expressed an interest in the creation of dedicated units to boost the number of people from ethnic minorities in the services and to harness the military tradition of the Sikh faith in particular.
The move comes after the ministry of defence revealed plans to recruit more Muslims and ethnic minorities into the army after the rise of Islamic State (IS) and the terrorist attack in Paris last month. IANS