Above: A Delhi Police marching contingent passes through the Rajpath during the rehearsal for the celebration of 60th Republic Day -2009, in New Delhi on January 06, 2009. This file is a copyrighted work of the Ministry of Defence, Government of India, licensed under the Government Open Data License - India.
How does a service life of more than a century sound? The Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle chambered in .303 British went into service in 1904, And they have been in continuous use in India, first as a British colony and then after independence in 1947, ever since.
That just changed in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India, on that nation’s republic day, Jan. 26, 2020. According to a report from ndtv.com, about 45,000 of the rifles were slated to be decommissioned and turned in, to of all places back to Rifle Factory Ishapore, which started cranking out Lee-Enfields shortlyafter its founding in 1904.
“This [.303] rifle is a fantastic weapon and has served us brilliantly in various operations in the past,” the article quoted senior police officer Bijaya Kumar.
According to the photos accompanying the ndtv.com article, these guns were not the 2A/2A1 rifles chambered in 7.62x51 mm NATO and made from 1962 until, perhaps, as late as the 1980s, although some sources state production ended with around 250,000 guns ending in 1974. A 2009 photo clearly shows that at least the Delhi police had upgraded to 7.62 mms at some point. You can tell by the magazine, which is distinct from that of a .303 British SMLE.
The Lee-Enfield L2A1 can be distinguished from the SMLE by the shape of its magazine, which is squared off to accommodate the 7.62 mm NATO round.
No, these Uttar Pradesh rifles were the genuine article; SMLE Mark III* rifles chambered in .303 British. And the policemen outfitted their guns with Pattern 1907 sword bayonets with glistening 17” blades.
Utta Pradesh Police Superintendent Amit Verma said his constables favored the Lee-Enfields for their “accuracy and sturdiness,” something with which British soldiers in two world wars would agree. “They have been in use since independence (from the British in 1947), and now they'll be replaced by INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) and SLRs (Self-Loading Rifles),” Verma told NDTV.
According to the article, some of the UP police were reluctant to give them up.
“Saroj Kumar Mishra, a constable with Uttar Pradesh police since 1982, said he would miss the heavy-duty rifle. ‘The weapon is as smooth as butter, even after 20 rounds of back-to-back firing,’ he was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times newspaper. ‘This feature is perhaps the most important one which we often miss in the modern-day weapons.’”
Us, too, Constable Mishra. Us, too.
Don’t get your hopes up, collectors, as the Indian government has plans for them. Sadly, they are slated to be converted at Ishapur into “anti-riot guns,” whatever those are. Seem to me an SMLE with a 17” sword bayonet could be useful in a good riot.