India says it may be forced to withdraw vacancies for Nepali Gurkhas for time being

India may be forced to withdraw vacancies for enlisting soldiers from Nepal under its new Agnipath scheme in the ongoing cycle if the landlocked country does not take a decision in time, Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande said on Wednesday.

Such a move by India, if it comes to that, could have adverse implications for the already delicately poised relationship with Nepal, where China has systematically made huge strategic inroads over the years, reports the Times of India in its Thursday edition.

Nepal has put on hold recruitments under the Agnipath scheme, for which rallies were to commence on August 25 in Butwal, in protest of the induction of the soldiers for only four years without pension and ex-serviceman benefits.

Ahead of the recruitment date, Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka discussed the matter with Indian Ambassador Naveen Srivastava and communicated that Nepal will make a position on the scheme once wider political consultations are held. But no political consultants have been arranged so far, a senior government official said.

Nepal’s current position on the recruitment of Nepali youths in the Indian Army under the Agnipath scheme has been communicated to the Indian side at different levels already, the official added. “It will still take more time,” he said.

“The recruitment under the Agnipath scheme has been halted till the November elections. Decisions on such sensitive matters at a time when most of the communist parties in and outside the government are against temporary hiring cannot be rushed,” said the senior government official who has been part of several consultations inside the government, told the Post. “In the past, other political parties have also made their positions public in regards to abolishing the recruitment and turned the issue into a huge political agenda so this matter is unlikely to sort out anytime soon or before the elections.”

Replying to a question at a session in the United Service Institute of India, General Pande said the vacancies allocated to Nepali Gurkhas will have to be “redistributed” to others for the time being if Kathmandu does not allow recruitment as per the laid-down cut off dates.

The Indian Army will induct a total 40,000 Agniveers in two batches after the recruitment and selection process across India is complete. In Nepal, it plans to train around 25,000 youths starting in December and 15,000 in February, according to the news report.

Even before the Agnipath scheme was announced in mid-June, the annual intake of Nepali Gurkhas in the Indian Armies had gradually come down to around 1,500 from the earlier over 4,000 per year. The number under the Agnipath scheme is bound to be lower.

“In my opinion Nepal is unlikely to take any decision before the general elections on November 20,” General Pande said. “Especially given that some quarters are opposed to the Indian Army recruiting Nepali youths.”

“The decision is Nepal’s to take,” the Army Chief said, adding that India had explained the “benefits” for the 75 percent of the young soldiers to be demobilised after four years with the Sewa Nidhi exit package of IRs 1.17 million each.

Nepal’s foreign secretary Bharat Raj Poudyal, incidentally, called on External Affairs Minister of India S. Jaishankar on Wednesday after meeting his counterpart, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, a day earlier to discuss bilateral relations, said the Times of India report. But during the meeting between Poudyal and Kwatra on Tuesday in New Delhi, Poudyal did not raise the issue of Agnipath.

“We did not raise the issue because we have yet to hold political consultations at home before discussing it with the Indian side,” a Nepali member of the delegation at the meeting said.

“But through various other channels, we have communicated to India that the recruitment should be carried out as per the spirit of the 1947 tripartite agreement between Nepal, then British and Indian governments. We have also communicated our reservations to the Indian side that our people might not be interested in a short-term service. And those who retire after four years may pose a security threat and its social cost might be high,” the official said.

The Indian Army began recruiting Nepali Gurkhas under the tripartite agreement signed between India, Nepal and the UK in 1947. There are currently around 30,000 Nepali citizens serving in the Army’s seven Gurkha rifles regiments, each of which has five to six battalions, according to the news report.

Nepal also has over 1.3 million ex-servicemen who draw their pensions from the Indian Army.

From an earlier minuscule number, India-domicile Gurkhas from Darjeeling, Dehradhun, Dharamsala and other places now constitute 40 percent among Gurkha Regiment troops, the report added, the number of Nepali Gurkhas may be relatively small for the 1.2 million strong army, but it’s long-standing ties that strongly binds India and Nepal since Maharaja Ranjit Singh first raised a battalion of Gurkhas to serve in his army around 1809 to 1814.

Published on: 16 September 2022 | The Kathmandu Post


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