Days before the scheduled arrival of Indian Army Chief, Gen Manoj Pande, to receive the ‘Honorary General’ rank of Nepal Army, Kathmandu has for now stalled the recruitment of Gorkhas in the Indian Army under the ‘Agnipath scheme’, putting a question mark on the future of a practice that began 75 years ago.
The practice of Army chiefs of the two countries being the Honorary General of the other side on reciprocal basis is as old as Gorkha recruitment in the Indian Army. Gen Pande’s arrival on September 5 for this purpose coincides with the emerging uncertainty over recruitment of Nepal-domiciled Gorkhas into Indian Army as ‘Agniveers’.
On Wednesday, Nepal’s Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka informed India’s ambassador to Nepal, Naveen Srivastava, that recruitment of Gorkhas under Agnipath scheme does not conform with provisions of the tripartite agreement signed by Nepal, India and Britain on November 9, 1947. Khadka is learnt to have said that Kathmandu will take a final decision on the issue after wider consultation with political parties and all stakeholders.
Foreign Ministry sources said Khadka also told Srivastava that the 1947 agreement, on the basis of which Gorkhas are recruited in Indian Army, does not recognise India’s new recruitment policy under Agnipath scheme, and thus Nepal will “require to assess the impact of the new arrangement”.
As a result, the month-long recruitment process, which was to begin on Thursday and conclude on September 29 at different centres across Nepal, has been stalled indefinitely, sources said.
During the meeting, sources said, the Nepal side made clear that the current recruitment scheme for a period of four years under Agnipath is not in conformity with the provisions of the 1947 agreement. There have been noticeable concerns in Nepal about the future of Gorkha recruits when they retire after four years, and the impact of these out-of-job young men — all in their twenties — on society.
The state relations committee of the Nepal Parliament, which was scheduled to discuss different issues, including the Agnipath scheme and its impact on Gorkha recruitment, was adjourned due to a lack of quorum.
Minister Khadka said it is necessary to gather opinion of all sides, including that of major political parties and stakeholders. “This is not a final decision of the government. We will get back to India after a broader understanding is formed,” a source in the ministry said.
Recruitment of Gorkhas from Nepal began in then British Indian army after the Treaty of Sagauli was signed in 1816 between the government of Nepal and the British East India Company. It became a tripartite arrangement in November 1947 after India became independent and Gorkhas in Nepal were given a choice to serve in the Indian Army or go to UK.