Soon after the nation celebrated its first Republic Day in 1950, General (later Field Marshal) KM Cariappa, the then Chief of Army Staff and Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, launched a determined campaign to incorporate the President’s Bodyguard (PBG) – a unique body of troops under President’s Secretariat – into the Army’s newly raised Brigade of Guards.
General Cariappa was of the opinion that since the expenditure incurred on the President’s Bodyguard was paid from the defence budget it should form part of the Army.
The move was opposed tooth and nail by the Defence Ministry and The President’s Secretariat led by the then Military Secretary to the President, Colonel B Chatterjee, who held a honorary commission in the Army. This led to some acrimony between him and Gen Cariappa.
Documents accessed in the National Archives reveal that Gen Cariappa prepared a detailed note in February 1950 in which he proposed the amalgamation of the President’s Bodyguard into the Brigade of Guards with the new name of The Guards Cavalry Regiment (President’s Own).
The note was addressed to the then Defence Minister Baldev Singh. “You are now aware that we are now progressing with the formation of the Guards Brigade, and the second battalion of the brigade has commenced re-organisation with effect from Jan 26, 1950. It would be desirable, in view of its role as the bodyguard for the head of the state, for it to be incorporated in the Guards Brigade,” wrote Gen Cariappa with reference to PBG.
The C-in-C further wrote that two battalions of the Guards Brigade will always be stationed in Delhi and would be utilised on many occasions for ceremonial duties, and that as such there will be a lot in common between the PBG and Guards Brigade. “Further the expenditure on account of the President’s Bodyguard is debitable to the defence budget and as such it should form part of the Army,” wrote Gen Cariappa.
He also advocated that in time the PBG should be expanded to a full cavalry regiment with two horsed and one light armoured squadrons. He also said that it would be worthwhile to consider re-designation of PBG as The Guards Cavalry Regiment (President’s Own).
He asked the Defence Minister to refer the matter to the President and Prime Minister as this may call for a decision at the cabinet level.
While this was an official note prepared by Gen Cariappa for the defence ministry, archived records also show a letter written by him to the then Governor General C Rajagopalachari in April 1949 referring to the proposed incorporation of his bodyguard into the Brigade of Guards. Rajagopalachari had politely replied that the matter could be considered though there might be some issues of maintaining traditional character and separate existence of the bodyguard.
The defence ministry’s note in response to the C-in-C’s proposal noted that the bodyguard had always been a household unit of the Governor General and now under the exclusive control of the president. It also said that the men recruited for the PBG remain in PBG and are not transferable to any other unit.
The defence ministry note also added that making PBG part of the regular Army would make it like any other unit. “The President must have his own bodyguard who will take orders only from him and who must consider as their foremost duty the protection of the person of the President,” the defence ministry note read.
The ministry note further nixed General Cariappa’s proposal by saying that no change in the role of PBG was necessary and that the proposal also did not need to be put to the PM and the cabinet as it is the prerogative of the President. The President’s Military Secretary also prepared a detailed note giving the history of the PBG and dismissed the C-in-Cs proposals out of hand.
History of President’s Bodyguard
The bodyguard was formed at Benaras in September 1773 by Warren Hastings and consisted at first of 50 troopers. The same year it was augmented by 50 horses obtained from Raja Chet Singh of Benaras. The command of the bodyguard was given to Capt Sweeny Toone, an officer of the East India Company.
The official designation of PBG at the time was ‘The Governor’s Troop of Moguls’. It became the Governor General’s Bodyguard (GGBG) on the change of title of Warren Hastings from Governor of Bengal to Governor General in 1784.
In the Colonial era, PBG took part in almost every British action against Indian uprisings. Some of them are Battle of St George against Rohillas (1774), insurrection at Benaras (1781), Third Mysore War against Tipu Sultan (1790-92), Reduction of Cuttack (1803), Maratha War (1804-1805), insurrection at Cuttack (1817), Maratha War (1817-1818), Operation against Larka Kols (1821), Gwalior Campaign (1843), First Sikh War (1845-46), Second Sikh War (1848-1849), Santhal Revolt (1855) and First War of Independence (Indian Mutiny) (1857-1858).
In 1944, during the Second World War, the unit became part of the 2nd Indian Airborne Division and was designated the ‘44th Divisional Reconnaissance Squadron (GGBG). In 1946 it reverted to its normal designation of GGBG’
On Jan 4, 1950, just days ahead of the first Republic Day, the Governor General’s Bodyguard was redesignated through a notification from the PM’s Secretariat as the President’s Bodyguard with effect from Jan 26, 1950.