Gorkhas as Agniveers – politics threatens to harm regional security

The Agnipath recruitment plan for the Indian Armed Forces has been the subject of intense debate. The new recruitment proposal of 45,000 people per year ensures a four-year term, after which 25% of those recruited that year will be retained, while the others will be made redundant with a handsome severance package as well as retirement options. priority registration in selected companies. and power supplies. The major apprehension concerns the medium and long term impact of the device on the effectiveness of the armies. The timing of this decision is concerning, especially when the armed forces are considering major organizational changes, there are tensions with China and there is no change in Pakistan’s position.

But that’s not the issue of emphasis here. What is of concern is the recruitment of Gorkha soldiers from Nepal, which forms an essential subset of manpower planning and recruitment for the army. This is at the heart of the alarming manpower shortages in the armed forces, a consequence of the non-recruitment policy followed for more than two years at the height of the pandemic.

Let me share some statistics to put the Indian Army recruitment process into perspective. The army has about 60,000 retirements per year. Given the gaps of the past two years, the annual recruitment of 45,000 people may not fill the existing gaps. The criticality will be severe after the fourth year of policy implementation when the first batch of Agniveers complete their term of service. The new policy will most likely allocate recruiting vacancies to states based on a complex formula on each state’s recruitable male population (RMP). But, for the roughly 40 Gorkha infantry battalions, 50 percent of the workforce is traditionally Nepal-domiciled Gorkhas (NDG), while the rest is drawn from the Indian Gorkha population. This equates to approximately 25,000 to 30,000 NDGs in the army.

The Indian government has been barred from organizing proposed recruitment rallies in late August and early September in Nepal, which is of serious concern. This has strategic ramifications for India as this event follows Nepal’s combative stance on the border issue. It also raises questions about India’s outreach and its relationship with its South Asian neighbours.

Military relations continue to be an important foundation of our bilateral relations with Nepal. This can be seen in the practice of granting “honorary chief” status by each country to the army chief of the other. The current Indian COAS has just been honored during his recent official visit to Nepal. In addition, pensions and salaries of Gorkha soldiers who have served or are serving in the Indian army constitute a significant portion of Nepal’s remittances abroad.

Nepal’s recent position is probably due to the shortened period of service for Agniveers and their subsequent re-employment. In my opinion, this is not the main stumbling block. It has become an excuse to give impetus to the long-running debate over the admission of Nepalese citizens into the Indian Armed Forces. This has also been a problem highlighted by the Communists of Nepal. The current delay may be part of a political game in Nepal, as its national elections are scheduled for the end of 2022. However, if looked at pragmatically, based on my interactions, the current generation of young Nepalese will consider this program as a way to give shape to their dreams. The limited service will give them a corpus ready to become entrepreneurs or use it to re-educate/requalify to work abroad.

Historically, Gorkha citizens of Nepal served in the Indian army long before independence. The recruitment of ex-Nepal labor was formalized at the time of independence in May 1947, under a tripartite treaty between Nepal, the United Kingdom and India, called the Protocol of agreement on the recruitment of Gorkha troops. It has been agreed that Gorkha soldiers will serve without discrimination. This right was reinforced in the Indo-Nepal Peace Treaty of 1950 which allowed Nepalese nationals to work in India on an equal footing. Experts are of the view that the amended terms of service in the Indian Army in no way violate these agreements as they are non-discriminatory.

Thus, the following course of action should be adopted. First, active political, diplomatic and military engagements at different levels of administration must be undertaken to dispel misconceptions about Agniveer policing fueled by irresponsible statements. Second, a review of the terms of employment of Nepalese Gorkha Agniveers by the Indian government and highlighting the benefits of shorter terms of employment. Third, formalize specially designed retraining programs for demobilized Gorkha soldiers. And finally, there is a need for greater sensitivity to Nepal from the Indian government.

The author is a former commander in the Indian Army

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