Why India can’t let inimical forces in Nepal stop Gorkhas from joining Indian Army over Agnipath


Inputs over the weekend stated that Nepal has urged the Government of India to currently stall the recruitment of Gorkhas under the Agnipath scheme. The Nepalese foreign minister, Narayan Khadke, stated this after meeting the Indian ambassador to Nepal, Naveen Srivastava. This happened a day before recruitment was to commence in Nepal’s Lumbini province, for which official permission had yet to be granted. The Indian Army Chief is scheduled to visit Nepal in early September to be bestowed with the appointment of honorary chief of the Nepalese Army. It is likely that the issue would be raised during his visit.

A statement in the Nepalese newspaper, Kantipur Daily, stated: “Although the Nepal government is positive about facilitating the recruitment of Gorkhas in the Indian Army, but the government will formally make the decision regarding the matter after holding talks with other major political parties as the Government of India has introduced a new military recruitment.” Further Nepalese authorities contend that Agnipath is not under the tripartite agreement signed between Nepal, India and the UK in 1947. The only other official source of government-to-government employment for the Nepalese, apart from soldiers in the British and Indian armies, is for the Singapore police, though numbers are very low.

The Indian Army recruits Gorkhas for its Gorkha regiments from different parts of Nepal. Most Gorkha regiments possess a mix of Indian and Nepali Gorkhas. There is possibly only one pure Indian Gorkha battalion, part of First Gorkhas. Salaries and pensions of Indian Army Gorkha veterans are a major source of revenue for rural Nepal. India also runs welfare schemes, including medical facilities, for its veterans there. The military wing of the Indian embassy in Kathmandu is largely responsible for all aspects concerning Indian Army veterans in that country.

The army veteran community in Nepal has close linkages with their Indian regiments and are locally influential. They are India’s goodwill ambassadors in Nepal. Since recruitment is generally from the same regions, veterans and the serving are always in close contact. The veterans regularly visit their battalions and renew their ties and bonding. No political power in Nepal has been able to break the pro-Indian attitude of its veteran community in Nepal.

Simultaneously, rumours continue to make rounds on Gorkhas being enticed to join the Chinese PLA. China had earlier attempted to sign an agreement with Nepal to recruit Gorkhas, which was turned down by the Nepalese government. In the future too, it is unlikely that Nepal would accede to Chinese requests. It has witnessed the pride of Indian army Gorkha veterans and is aware that China can never offer the same. With high unemployment within, China may not seek Gorkhas currently.

China is aware of the devotion, hardiness and valour of the Gorkha soldier and seeks them to make up for shortcomings of their conscripted soldiers. In most regions of Nepal, the Chinese are distrusted and also disliked. Further, the strong Indian Gorkha veteran community, having operated opposite the Chinese along the LAC, would never support its kith and kin joining the Chinese PLA.

A major reason for Nepal hesitating to permit recruitment in the Agnipath scheme is similar to what has been raised by many in India. It is the future of the soldier post his disembodied after four years. Currently, soldiers retire after a minimum 15 years’ service and are granted a lifelong pension alongside medical benefits, all of which will be denied to Agniveers.

Within India, there are announcements that the government is intending to create alternative employment avenues for Agniveers, none of which would be applicable for Nepali Gorkhas. Unless the Indian government convinces Nepal that it will also include disembodied Nepalese Gorkhas in its schemes for disembodied Agniveers, this concern is unlikely to die down. As in India there are worries that militarily trained unemployed youth can be a cause of exploitation by anti-national agencies unless they have a secure future.

Nepal has among the highest levels of unemployment in Asia and remittances from its nationals abroad make up
almost 30 per cent of its GDP. Indian Gorkhas contribute 3 per cent to the Nepalese GDP. With Agniveers serving for just four years, the Nepal government may not gain in the long term.

Further, Nepali military veterans are known to be exploited by shady global private security chains, a matter of concern for the state. Advertisements for recruitment for recognised private security companies are visible all over Nepal. Those recruited are deployed in high-risk global trouble spots with minimum wages. With high unemployment, many join. Stopping the recruitment of Agniveers by shady security companies will be even more difficult. The New York Times in an article of 23 August 2021 stated that Nepali veterans were employed by private security companies for guarding officials, diplomats and even embassies in Afghanistan.

When the US pulled out, many Nepalese employed by private security companies were left behind. As per the article, over 15,000 Nepalese had officially sought government work permits for Afghanistan, many more moving without sanction, adopting a circuitous route. Details of those who returned remain unknown. Nepal does not have an embassy in Afghanistan. In 2016, fourteen Nepali security guards of the Canadian embassy in Kabul were killed in a bomb attack on the bus in which they were travelling. The compensation paid is unknown. Their exploitation post their service as Agniveers will only increase.

The Indian government must work to allay the fears of Nepal. Nepalese Gorkhas must be included in post-employment schemes of Agniveers, as Nepalese citizens are entitled to work in India. The bond between the Indian government and Nepal, linked through Army-to-Army contacts, cannot be permitted to end. The India-Nepal proximity keeps China at bay. Indian Army veterans in Nepal are a major support base, which could erode in case India stops recruitment of Gorkhas. This will impact Indian goodwill in Nepal and open doors for China. If a new agreement for Agnipath needs to be initiated between governments, it should be done.

The author is a former Indian Army officer, strategic analyst and columnist. Views expressed are personal.

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Why India can’t let inimical forces in Nepal stop Gorkhas from joining Indian Army over Agnipath
Why India can’t let inimical forces in Nepal stop Gorkhas from joining Indian Army over Agnipath
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