Contingency plan: Army set to induct tribals with similar traits to stem depleting number of Nepalese Gorkhas
According to sources, the Gorkha Rifles' character will remain unchanged. To ensure this, recruitment will focus on tribals from states such as Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Assam. That's because these individuals possess traits and physical attributes akin to the Nepalese Gorkhas.
With the depleting strength of Nepalese Gorkhas in the force -- a situation that arose after Kathmandu stopped sending its youths to join the Indian Army on the grounds that the 'Agnipath' scheme violated a 1947 tripartite agreement between India, Nepal and the United Kingdom -- the top echelons of the defence establishment are getting ready to induct 'tribals with similar (Gorkha) traits' into the Gorkha Rifles. For the last three years, no Gorkha soldiers from Nepal have been recruited in the Indian Army.
Sources in the defence and security establishment told Asianet Newsable: "The plan is almost ready and it will be implemented if the issues do not get resolved." However, sources were quick to clarify that "this is a contingency plan".
Stating that the character of the Gorkha Rifles will be the same, the sources said that tribals from states like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam will be recruited as they are hardened and their traits and physical appearances are similar to the Nepalese Gorkhas. It is pertinent to mention here that the Gorkha Regiments have a 60:40 ratio between Nepalese Gorkhas and Indian-resident Gorkhas in the Indian Army. There are few units, which even have more than 70 per cent Nepalese Gorkhas.
Considered one of the most fearless, dedicated, courageous and disciplined soldiers, the Gorkhas’ soldierly qualities had even impressed the British in two Anglo-Gorkha wars in 1815. The Nepalese Gorkhas are currently serving in three forces, including the Indian Army, the British Army and Singapore Police. Currently, the Gorkhas are serving in seven regiments of Gorkha Rifles spread across 43 Battalions, one unit of Artillery, Naga Regiment, Assam Regiment and the 5 Guards Unit. Besides, they also serve in the Assam Rifles.
Similarly, in 2021, the Indian Army had experimented to expand the recruitment pool in the Gorkha Rifles by increasing the percentage of youths from Uttarakhand’s Kumaon and Garhwal regions. It was also decided that no Nepalese Gorkha should be allowed to join the Naga Regiment, Assam Regiment and the Unit of Guards. The policy is expected to be reassessed in 2024.
Why is the Indian Army looking at the "contingency plan"?
In June 2022, the Narendra Modi government announced a major military recruitment reform -- Agnipath Scheme -- at the level of personnel below officer rank (PBOR) to make the armed forces more lean and lethal.
Kathmandu, which is a signatory of India, Nepal and the United Kingdom tripartite agreement 1947, put a hold on the recruitment of its youths in the Indian Army till further order, saying that it did not conform to provisions of the treaty. However, New Delhi has stated that the Agnipath Scheme neither violates the Tripartite Agreement nor discriminates against anyone and that the Gorkhas from Nepal will continue to get the same salaries and facilities as their Indian counterparts.
Under the Agnipath scheme, youths between the ages of 17.5-21 years can apply for a 4-year period of service. On completion of four years, only 25 per cent of the soldiers will be retained for 15 more years based on merit, intent and organisational requirement. The remaining 75 per cent would be compensated and retired. They will not be entitled to pension and other benefits. Presently, about 25,000 Nepalese-domicile Gorkhas are serving in the Indian Army. Every year, around 4,000 Gorkhas retire from the service.