Not a single Nepalese Gorkha/ Gurkha will be joining the Indian Army in 2023. The Communist government in Nepal has decided not to allow the 1,300-odd Gorkhas who join the Indian Army annually to be recruited. The predicament has been the newly launched four-year-service Agnipath (Fire Warriors) scheme of the Indian Army.
But another chilling effect could be waiting in the already frosty Indo-Nepalese ties. Communist China, which has long been intrigued by the motivation behind Nepalese youth joining the Indian Army, may seek the Communist government in Nepal to allow the Gurkhas to join the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
This is an apparent effort by China, which under the Mao Zedong plan wanted to gobble up Nepal as one of the ‘Five Fingers’ of occupied Tibet, to exploit the Communist government in Nepal to create an anti-India sentiment in the Himalayan nation.
Gorkha, respected globally as the fiercest soldier, has been recruited in the Indian Army and earlier in the British Army since 1815. The British had raised the Gorkha regiments, and they fought bravely in various military expeditions.
Later on, after the independence in 1947, the Indian Army retained six regiments of Gorkha soldiers while four went to the British Army as part of a tripartite agreement between India, Nepal, and the UK.
Indian Army No More Lucrative
In 1947, Pakistan was also said to have staked claim to Gorkha regiments, but Nepal did not consent to it. In fact, after the 1962 war with India, the PLA also requested Nepal Gurkha soldiers, but Nepal turned the request down.
This centuries-old link is now under duress owing to the new recruitment scheme of the Indian Army launched in 2022. It resulted in furor in both India and Nepal.
Under the new scheme, the Indian government has drastically altered the recruitment procedure to cut down the burgeoning pension bill and simultaneously make the forces younger and leaner. The new scheme entails catching the recruits young, conducting a part of their training on the job, and retiring three-fourths of the batch after four years without any pension but with a compensation package.
The Indian Army has been lucrative for the Nepalese youth as the payment has been 2.5 times of what the Nepalese Army pays, and the pension provides economic and social security. The job in the Indian Army also provides Nepalese nationals with the option to settle down in India.
But, Agnipath changes that. There are seven Gorkha regiments in the Indian Army, with 40 battalions and a total of 40,000 soldiers, but only one-fourth of them are of Nepalese origin. There are 126,000 Gurkha pensioners of the Indian Army in Nepal, and there is an Indian Ex-servicemen Welfare Organization in Nepal working for retired army personnel.
Salaries and pensions of the Indian Army Gorkha soldiers form a significant part of income in rural Nepal. The Nepalese soldiers in the Indian Army bring US$620 million in remuneration, while Nepal’s defense budget is US$420 million.
Communist Nepal Halts Gurkha Soldiers From Serving Indian Army
The Nepalese government, led by the Communists who are against Nepalese Gorkhas serving in Indian Army historically, halted the recruitment process using the refusal by the Indian government to make an exception for the Gorkha soldiers under the Agnipath scheme. The Indian establishment has been hoping that the recruitment process will commence once elections are over in Nepal, but still, there has been no movement.
“I really hope that the Nepal government will take a favorable view on it and start the recruitment process,” Lt Gen. DS Hooda (Retired) told the EurAsian Times. “The recruitment is mutually beneficial as it gives them employment, and the Gorkha veterans act as goodwill ambassadors between the two countries,” Hooda said.
The officer, belonging to the 4/4 Gorkha regiment, also emphasized that the recruitment halt will not affect the preparedness of the Indian Army, which has Gorkha regiments drawing troops from both India and Nepal. The vacancies will now be filled with Indian Gurkhas only. This is going to be a massive loss for the Nepalese youth.
The only other official government-to-government employment, besides being soldiers in the British and Indian armies, available for the Nepalese youth is to work for the Singapore police.
China will not shy from exploiting the situation. The Gorkha soldiers have proved their mettle in the various wars India fought in 1947-48, 1965, and 1971 against Pakistan and the one against China in 1962. And an intrigued China funded a study in 2020 to find out what drives the Nepalese youth to join the Indian Army.
As the Maoist in Nepal got a say in the government process, the clamor against Nepalese youth joining the Indian Army has been rising. There have been demands that India should not post Nepalese Gorkha against China if there is a war.
As the Maoist chief and new Prime Minister of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ visits India this month, it will be an important issue. The presence of a Communist government in Nepal has also bolstered China to make inroads into the country.
China May Jump In To Recruit Gurkha Soldiers?
Rumors are rife about China exploring options to recruit Gorkhas in its rank and file, but it remains to be seen if Nepal is ready to take the drastic step.
The relationship between India and Nepal has been rolling downhill in the last decade. The India-backed economic blockade of Nepal has further pushed it towards China to counter its dependence on the former. China has been quick to step up.
Former Indian foreign secretary and ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale said in a research paper: “China has three objectives. First, to deepen political and economic integration with Nepal to erode its dependence on India and minimize the United States’ ability to threaten China’s security in Tibet.
“Second, to turn Nepal into a transit station for commerce into South Asia or as a buffer where China expects to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity if needed, depending on how relations with India evolve in the decades ahead.
“Third, to create a Sino-centric order in South Asia because it knows it cannot harbor ambitions to become a global hegemon unless it fully controls its periphery.”
The Himalayan nation is important to China to secure its southwestern border from India and neutralize the US presence in the country. Nepal has been touted as necessary for the US Indo-Pacific strategy.
Chinese writings claim that the United States is infiltrating Nepal to turn it into a high-altitude scientific and military monitoring base.
The past overtures by China for Gorkha soldiers have been rebuffed. However, the ongoing imbroglio and the presence of a favorable dispensation in Nepal paves the way for brave Gurkha soldiers, with a history of 200 years of gallantry, into the PLA.
- Penned By: Sr. Journalist Ritu Sharma
- Please email us at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com