Gurkha Battle-Cry “Ayo Gorkhali”: Not for Indian Army Anymore?

24 Feb

Aasef Chauhdry

The discrimination by the Indian Army vis-à-vis Gurkha soldiers has ultimately forced the Nepal government to ask Indians from not recruiting the Gurkhas. It’s not only at the government level but at the public level too that protests are being made against the recruiting the Gurkhas in the Indian army. Not only that it has sparked a huge row within the Indian army, but has also gave birth to a great controversy across Nepal where general people came out with immense anti-India sentiments, forcing government of Nepal to strongly consider a move to bring an end to any further recruitment of any Nepali in Indian army. It has now forced the Indian defense establishment to watch the Nepali government’s reaction with a great concern and move to eventually halt the recruitment of Gurkhas in Indian army in a fresh bid in line with the earlier recommendations of its parliament’s report “Nepal’s Foreign policy in the Changed Context, 2012″.

The Indian government has to face a pressure on many fronts. On one hand if the Nepal government’s stance is posing a threat to the Indian military organizational routines then on the other hand, a number of social circles, human rights organizations and media bodies including Nepal Journalists Association (NJA) and Human Rights Journalists Association ( HURJA),Nepal have paid rich tributes to the chivalry and bravery of the Gurkha soldiers in Indian army and elsewhere and have strongly condemned the discrimination of Gurkha soldiers by anyone, anywhere under any circumstances. So much so that the President of Nepal Journalists Association Dr. Manju Ratna Sakya, while talking to media said that Gurkhas were symbol of chivalry and pride for the entire Nepali nation and their historic contributions of chivalry in the battlefields were globally acknowledged and recognized and any discrimination and insult of any Gurkha soldier was deemed to be the insult and discrimination of the entire Nepali nation.

Raj Bahadur, a veteran journalist and senior member of NJA; the neutral and highly active med body of Nepali journalists, looks at the issue from a different angle and believes that this is not the case of Gurkha soldiers only. It’s a case of the fate of Nepal as well. While a large part of Nepal is under occupation from India, voices are now gaining momentum which call for breaking the shackles of Indian hegemony in Nepal. According to the authenticated reports over 25,000 Nepalese are currently serving in the Indian Army’s seven Gurkha Rifles (1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th and 11th), each of which has five to six battalions (800 to 1,000 soldiers each), drawing basically from Rais and Limbus of Eastern Nepal and Gurungs and Magars from the West. That makes up almost 70% of the Gurkha Regiment, while “Indian domiciled Gurkhas” from places like Dehradun, Darjeeling and Dharamshala constitute the rest. There are roughly another 20,000 Gurkhas in Indian paramilitary and police forces like Assam Rifles while India is supposed to look after over 80,000 ex-servicemen, 17,000 retired Assam Rifles personnel and 11,000 widows in Nepal. The irony is that no welfare plan has ever been introduced in this direction by successive Indian governments and military leaderships, other than routine pensions and the Gurkhas are treated by every government and the military command not more than a tissue paper and that’s what is causing alarming restlessness within the ranks. Even within the Indian army there are two groups; one who are against according extra privileges to the Gurkha soldiers – of course in majority – and an insignificant group of military seniors from the West Bengal who support the Gurkhas demands and rights but are not paid any heed to.

Instead of responding to the grievances of the Nepal government generally and the Gurkhas categorically, the serving and retired Indian military top brass has started threatening the latter, directly and indirectly. One of the former Chiefs of the Indian army Gen. Ved Prakash Malik recently said, “Nepali Gurkhas have been part of the Indian Army for a very long time. If they are stopped from joining the army then the association between the armies and also the countries will be affected. Besides the large number of Nepali Gurkha soldiers, we also have a large number of pensioners in the country. We have opened hospitals and other facilities at Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal,” Malik told The Daily Mail to a query in this direction. “In some villages in eastern Nepal, about half of the families have one or more pensioners from the Indian Army”, he added. However Malik had no convincing or satisfactory reply to the issue of the plight of 11000 widows of Gurkha soldiers back in Nepal and to the issues like the Ran Bahadur Gurung episode.

However, currently the recruitment of Nepalese Gurkhas into the Indian and British Armies (which started with the Britain-India-Nepal Tripartite Agreement of 1947) is under a cloud. Based on the recommendation issued by a Parliamentary Committee on International Relations and Human Rights on 26 December 2011, Nepal has directed the ministries concerned to halt the recruitment of Gurkhas by foreign armies. This demand had first come up as a part of the 50-point agenda the Maoists submitted to the government when they went underground in 1996.A couple of years back, taking exceptional notice of discrimination of Gurkha soldiers in Indian army, Nepal’s Maoist Chief, Prachanda had very strongly objected to further recruitment of Gurkhas in Indian army and called for a comprehensive ban by Kathmandu in this direction. He told reporters that Nepali Gurkhas should not be allowed to join Indian defense forces.

Amrita Thapa of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (M) says, “Nowhere in the world do you see a system like this. Times have changed from the Empire days. The Gurkhas are taken from Nepal as raw material and used by another country to meet their purposes in exchange for money; there is no value addition. They may be given medals and honours, but it is a form of modern-day slavery that questions the sovereignty of Nepal,” says. The most alarming and dangerous thing is when surprisingly, this move finds support from the Indian Gurkhas, who have always felt sidelined. “Being Indian citizens, they feel they should be given preference over Nepalese Gurkhas,” says a senior officer in the Indian Army.

Gurkhaland is a proposed state in India demanded by the people of Darjeeling Hills and the people of Gurkha ethnic origin in Dooars in northern West Bengal on the basis of ethno-linguistic rights. The movement for Gurkhaland has gained momentum in the line of ethno-linguistic-cultural sentiment of the people who desire to identify themselves as Indian Gurkhas. Two mass movements for Gurkhaland have taken place under the GNLF (Gurkha National Liberation Front -1986–1988) and Gurkha Janmukti Morcha (2007–till date). The movement for a separate state of Gurkhaland gained serious momentum during the 1980s, when a violent agitation was carried out by Gurkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subhash Gaisingh. The agitation ultimately led to the establishment of a semiautonomous body in 1988 called the Darjeeling Gurkha Hill Council (DGHC) to govern certain areas of Darjeeling district. However, in 2007, a new party called the Gurkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) raised the demand for a separate state of Gurkhaland once again.

It’s becoming difficult for the Indian government to handle this double edged issue; satisfying the Nepali and Indian Gurkhas as far as their demands are concerned and ensuring that out of desperation the deprived Gurkhas, serving as well as retired ones do not play into the hands of Gurkhaland movement activists. In case if it happens so then the Indian authorities are seeing a worst nightmare of their history, especially when the West Bengal belt is already a troublesome zone for India. Whatever the case may be but one thing is for sure that it can easily be read on the horizon that very soon there is no more Gurkha Battle-Cry “Ayo Gorkhali for Indian Army.

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