K.P. Oli is firmly in the driver’s seat as Prime Minister of Nepal after sorting out the unification of the two respective factions of the communist parties of Nepal. Oli however needs to be careful of factionalism within the Communist Party as Nepal has had eleven prime ministers in the last eleven years. He has already signalled his intention to annul the agreement of the previous government, wherein Nepal’s cabinet, in November 2017 scrapped a $2.5 billion deal with China Gezhouba Group Corp to build the Budhi Gangaki hydroelectric plant citing lapses in the award process and award the hydro project back to Ghezouvaba and also carry on with the trade and transit agreement with China which he signed to counter the unofficial blockade by India.
Oli won the elections on an anti India plank and a visit by the Indian External Affairs Minister, it seems, was not good enough to pacify him. There are two pending issues that he can touch to show to his supporters that he is firmly anti India. The first is the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty which a section of Nepal has been calling as unequal and the second is Gorkha recruitment in the Indian Army. The 1950 treaty has ten clauses. One to four are foreign policy centric, fifth allows Nepal transit rights including importing arms across India, the sixth and seventh are people centric, eight cancels all previous treaties, ninth give signature dates and tenth gives a one year notice period to each party. Nepal has been stating that this treaty does not meet its hopes and expectations but has never submitted a revised draft to signal their intention. It is at best a case of political opportunism, and will certainly need a lot of deft handling from both sides. The case of Gorkha recruitment into Indian Army initially appears as a populist move, but scratch the surface and a can of worms opens up, as it is people centric and Nepal is not able to provide such quality jobs and terminal benefits to its own citizens.
Gorkhas have been serving in India from the times of the Mughals, colloquially called “Mugalayan,” when they went back to Nepal, further strengthened by the British in 1815 and cemented in 1947 with the Tripartite Agreement signed between Nepal, India and Britain. This agreement allows Nepalese citizens to serve in India and Britain. The agreement with Britain was reviewed in 2007. There has always been a strong undercurrent by the political class as to why their able young men should fight for another country. The anti India baiters use this recruitment quite effectively and with the mood of the people definitely turning anti India because of the perceived blockade, this issue is again coming up for review within the Kathmandu centric political class. Any such issue which concerns people is generally very complex and in such a traditional matter, the strings are so intertwined that one does not know which nerve will hurt where and who will be affected how.
The political class may call the shots to earn brownie points but at the end of the day, Nepal and India have people to people contacts, shared cultural valves, same religion and deep historical bonds. One such decision is not going to hurt India with its young demographic profile of manpower and government jobs at a premium. It will, on the other hand, hurt the state of remittance to Nepal. In 2008, there was a 58 page report on International Relations and Human Rights by the Nepali Parliamentary Committee constituted by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachand). This started a debate about the Gorkha manpower which Nepal calls a tradition. This debate is again likely to come up as reflected in a column “Next Door Nepal,” by Yubaraj Ghimire, as recently as 26 February 2018.
Gorkha Manpower in Indian Army
India currently has seven Gorkha regiments which are normally referred to as the Gorkha Brigade. These are the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Gorkha Rifles. The missing serials were allotted to the British Army on India’s independence. Each regiment is further organised into five or six infantry battalions, which is the basic, fully independent, and functional unit of the Indian Army. The Gorkha Brigade is an association representing approximately 40,000 Indian and Nepali Gorkha soldiers as well as about 90,000 Indian Army pensioners in Nepal. Within the battalion, most units have one-third Indian citizens who are colloquially referred to as Indian Gorkhas and two-third Nepali Gorkhas or in other words Nepali citizens who serve in India as per the 1947 Tripartite Agreement. The size of manpower Nepal provides is minuscule, but Gorkha officers swear by the “Johnny Gorkha”; the quality of raw material is tough, hardy mountain folk, loyal, sincere, brave the quintessential fighter, since times immemorial. There are currently 39 Gorkha Infantry Battalions, in the service of the Indian Army. The composition of 38 of these battalions is two-third manpower is from Nepal while one-third manpower comes from India. Recently, the 39th Gorkha Battalion was raised with full complement of manpower from India. Besides this, there are personnel employed in police forces and other organisations. It will become difficult to quantify the exact manpower but the pensioners are in the region of 1,27,000. It is normally claimed that roughly 45,000 personnel are serving in India at any one time from Nepal of which around 32,000 are in defence and balance 13,000 elsewhere.
Assam Rifles Case Study
The Assam Rifles was initially raised as Cachar Levy in 1835. There are currently 46 battalions with a sanctioned strength of 63,747 personnel. The Assam Rifles were initially manned by 80 percent Gorkhas and most of the traditions of the Assam Rifles “the tamers of India’s North East,” are Gorkha centric. In1986, the government of India decided to change the recruitment pattern and Gorkha recruitment was cut down. The manpower composition of Assam Rifles today is more in tune with national needs, although Indian Gorkhas feel they got a raw deal. If Gorkha manpower is reduced by Nepal, it will have no impact on India with its vast population base. How will it impact Gorkha Regiment manpower is a matter of detail which the Indian Army will easily be able to sort out. These regiment already have 30 percent Indian Gorkhas and to increase this to 100 percent will not be much of a problem. Initially there may be hiccups, but the issue is of no major concern to India.
Impact of Announcement
The common man of India sees the Gorkha soldier as an Indian and is generally not aware of the various intricacies of recruitment. A move like this will have a huge impact on the average citizen and with a 24 hour media playing on it full time and active social media it will not be taken kindly by the average India citizen. There is a possibility of a strong anti Nepal feeling developing. If this announcement is made any time between now and up to the elections it will also bring Nepal into the political electoral landscape. Thus, the timing becomes critical. The common man in all probability will initially take it as an anti India move to weaken the nation.
The recruitment pattern of the Indian Army is fairly stable and with a young demographic population such a minor hiccup of this nature can be easily overcome because of availability of adequate manpower. If a decision like this were to be taken today, with recruitment already taking place and recruits under training the earliest impact will be felt in a time frame of two years not before 2020 or 2021 or so. Those retiring then will be slowly replaced by the manpower in driblets being inducted in the new recruitment pattern from 2019 onwards. The decision may run the tap dry but water will continue to pour for quite some time. The Gorkha Training Centres are in various hill stations and they can increase the ratio of Indian Gorkhas and recruitment from other hill states to maintain the same status of Gorkha Regiments.
In 1962 the Chinese used loud speakers on a daily basis against the company of Major Dhan Singh Thapa, PVC, asking the soldiers to withdraw as they were from Nepal. The reply the Chinese got is known to history. During the unofficial blockade, Gorkha soldiers travelling home on leave to Nepal were harassed but remained stout to the Indian point of view, in spite of acute shortages back home in Nepal. The issue as and when it happens will be live but the Indian Army and the Indian diplomatic class will have to tackle it well. The men need to be assured that they will continue to be looked after, that all welfare projects will be continued, and that they will also be given a choice to settle in India. The government of India will need to keep its pension establishment running for decades. This becomes absolutely necessary as those who are serving will be around for a couple of decades. In short the government of the day will have to act with restraint and continue with its welfare and other packages as if it was business as usual. This may be a tall order but is extremely necessary to maintain the morale of the current serving soldier. Such a move will keep the decision of a roll back alive, and put doubts in the mind of the Kathmandu based intelligentsia if they took a correct decision.
Political Fallout in India and Nepal. A decision of this nature will have political brownie points only for India and serious political ramifications for Nepal. In India, the opposition will call it a foreign policy failure and both the two major political parties will blame one another. It will be a low point of Indo-Nepal relations but it does not affect the security of the Indian nation. Such a decision will happen some time, therefore timing becomes critical. With Indian stock low at Maldives, no go with Pakistan, the external affairs ministry will have to work overtime so also will the diplomatic corps. The political ramifications for Nepal are more acute. Nepal is affected by the population crying foul as jobs which are lacking in Nepal will be more acutely affected. Nepali youth is in the lookout for jobs and India is the biggest market. By conservative estimates there are six lakh youth who have not returned back home and continue to flood the domestic market in India. A large number can be seen in metros and a visit to any house in South Delhi where the ‘Bahadurs’ and Nepali maids serve, proves the point. The issue may backfire because it will give the opposition political parties of Nepal an agenda for the next elections. Just as anti India baiting was an issue, this time pro India recruitment or jobs may be an issue, but this will depend upon the state of economy of Nepal. One thing is certain that this is one decision that affects Nepal more than India.
There are also a large number of employees of Nepali origin mixed up with Indian Gorkhas who also work in India and own property in Nepal, most of whom go home annually to Nepal to look after their properties. There are families where one brother is in India and the other in Nepal and there are families who have daughters from Nepal earning jobs and pensions in India. How will the thin red line be drawn for them? What will happen to those who have pensionable jobs in India but are not soldiers? Will those who have to take this decision only stop youth from joining the Indian Army? The result may be a strong backlash in Nepal! The current recruitment procedure in India is that most government jobs less civil services are open to citizens of Nepal. Will that too be stopped by Oli or will it be selective “hands off from the Army”.
The Issue of Remittances. One of the interesting fallout of this decision is that Nepal’s remittances are affected, not immediately, but in the long term. The pension bill will continue to be the same for a couple of years because manpower is expensive and will be around for a couple of decades. But the long term impact will be severe as the tap will ultimately run dry. The total pension bill for the 1,27,000 pensioners (90,000 defence and 37,000 Central and State Government as well as para military), and serving soldiers remitting home money is around Rs 4,600 crore. It works out to NR 6400, which is larger than NR 3601.80 crore defence budget of Nepal. The Government of Nepal needs to seriously mull over these issues.
Recruitment of Indian Gorkhas is normally done on a certificate issued by respective Gorkha boards. How will this be monitored as with open borders as Nepali youth will continue to cross the borders in search of jobs and recruitment? This is going to become a law and order problem and the Nepali citizen is going to be fully exploited by anti social elements. Currently, only girls are smuggled across the borders. Such a decision will open a Pandora’s box for exploitation of manpower. The government of Nepal needs to think of its citizens. Even with checks and balances, a lot of Nepali youth today cross the borders for recruitment. Any move to ban Nepali citizens for recruitment into Gorkha Regiments will open the clandestine flood gate for perpetuity. In the long term, such a move will positively impact the Indian Gorkhas although there may be short term grievances of some cousins being hit negatively by this decision. One of the long term spins off will be that the people of India will start seeing the Gorkha Regiment as truly an Indian entity. It will also create additional jobs for India Gorkhas to fill a few odd percentage or nearly all the vacancies created. It will cement their demand for an independent state in the Republic of India, as the 30th state.
Brig C. S. Thapa unfortunately passed away, on the evening of 11 March 2018, after suffering a massive heart attack, a few days after sending this article to SALUTE. A fifth generation military veteran, he was a prolific writer who had authored a few books, among them being Gorkha: In Search Of Identity and Gorkha: Society and Politics. His passing away at a relatively young age came as a shock to all of us who were privileged to be his friend and he will be deeply mourned by all who knew him.