Nepal’s ethnic Gurkha soldiers, who have served in the Indian army for decades under a special agreement, are facing an uncertain future after India introduced a controversial new army hiring plan last year. The plan, called Agnipath or Path of Fire, has strained ties between the two neighbouring countries and sparked protests from the Gurkha community.
What is Agnipath?
Agnipath is a new hiring scheme for the Indian army that aims to reduce its expenditure on salaries and pensions, which consume more than half of its defence budget. Under Agnipath, soldiers are hired on a fixed four-year term, after which only a top performing 25% will be retained for India’s central security forces. The rest will be allowed to leave with a lumpsum amount of nearly $15,000 without pension or any other career benefits.
How does it affect the Gurkhas?
The rules of Agnipath also apply to the Gurkha soldiers, who have historically served for much longer terms in both the Indian and British armies. The Gurkhas, famed for their ferocity and bravery, have fought several wars for India and Britain since they were first recruited by the British East India company in 1815 following a peace deal with Nepal. After the end of colonial rule in 1947, a tripartite agreement between Nepal, India and Britain allowed Delhi and London to continue to recruit Gurkhas to their military.
However, the arrangement with Delhi came to a halt last year after the Indian government announced Agnipath without informing or consulting Nepal. Nepali officials say they were taken aback by Delhi’s abrupt decision, as it violated the tripartite treaty and undermined the dignity and welfare of the Gurkha soldiers. They also say that Agnipath will deprive thousands of young Nepalese of employment opportunities and social security.
What is the reaction in Nepal?
The announcement of Agnipath has sparked outrage and opposition from most Nepalese political parties and civil society groups, who have demanded that India revert back to the older Gurkha recruitment process. They have also called for a review of the tripartite treaty and a renegotiation of the terms and conditions of the Gurkha service.
The recruitment of Gurkhas has been postponed for now, as Nepal’s government says it will not accept the new plan until there is a political consensus. However, some analysts say that Nepal may not have much leverage over India, as Delhi has other strategic interests in the region and may not be willing to compromise on its defence reforms.
What is the future of the Gurkhas?
The future of the Gurkhas remains uncertain, as they face the prospect of losing their long-standing tradition and identity as loyal and courageous soldiers. Many Gurkhas have expressed their disappointment and frustration over India’s new hiring plan, saying that it is unfair and disrespectful to their service and sacrifice. Some have also voiced their concerns over their livelihood and integration into society after leaving the army.
The Gurkhas have been an integral part of India’s military history and culture, and have earned respect and admiration from both Indians and Nepalese. However, Agnipath may change that relationship forever, unless there is a dialogue and resolution between the two countries.