Government in a fix as India seeks Nepal’s position on the Army Agnipath schemeAs India plans to recruit Nepalis, it has asked Kathmandu for its views. Officials say they are discussing the matter.
The Nepal government is in a fix on whether to allow the Indian Army to recruit Nepali youths under the Narendra Modi government’s newly launched Agnipath, a highly controversial scheme that has received a fair share of criticism even in India.
Delhi has apparently asked Nepal’s views on the matter as India’s Gurkha Regiment plans to recruit Nepalis, for which tests are scheduled for August 25 in Butwal and September 1 in Dharan.
Nepal government officials say they are still mulling over the matter saying the Indian government did not discuss the matter with the Nepali side before launching the scheme and only informed that it has resumed the recruitment under the new scheme. The Indian Army had postponed Gorkha recruitment due to the Covid pandemic.
As soon as the new scheme was launched on June 14, the Indian Army via the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seeking approval for the selection and recruitment in Butwal and Dharan, and sought security support from the local administrations during the recruitment process, multiple sources told the Post.
After the government of Nepal failed to communicate to the Indian side whether it will allow the Indian Army to start the recruitment process, the Indian Army has stopped short of making public the recruitment dates, according to sources.
As per the Agnipath scheme announced by the Modi government in India, it will be recruiting 46,000 “Agniveers”.
Upon completing the four-year service, the “Aginveers” will return to society as a disciplined, dynamic, motivated, and skilled workforce for employment in other sectors to pursue their career in the job of their choice, as per the Indian government plan.
The provision will apply to the Gorkha Regiment, a dedicated force of the Indian Army that only hires Nepali nationals and Nepali-speaking people.
Of those recruited under the Agnipath scheme, 75 percent will retire after serving for four years, while 25 percent could be retained by the Indian armed forces and will serve a full term and get service. Those who will retire after four years will get Indian Rupees 1.71 million as Seva Nidhi Package (interest accumulated on the amount as per the applicable interest rates would also be paid).
Out of that 75 percent, an additional 10 percent will get reservations for ‘Agniveers’ in central police forces and Assam Rifles, Coast Guard, defence civilian posts, and 16 defense Public Service Utilities which include major ones like Hindustan Aeronautics, Bharat Electronics, as well as four shipyards and 41 ordnance factories, as per the Indian Army.
Some sections in Nepal have raised questions about the Agnipath scheme, saying whether it will violate the Tripartite Agreement between then British, India and Nepali governments signed in 1947 that ensures the recruitment in the Indian Army and ensured equal pay and pension and other facilities on par with the Indians.
“The government should hold talks with the Indian government and should settle the issue,” Dipak Prakash Bhatt, a security expert and parliamentarian from the CPN-UML, told the Post.
But those who are in favor of scrapping the recruitment of Nepali youths in the Indian Army have not spoken about the new Indian scheme that will affect the employment of Nepali youths in the Indian Army.
“The government of Nepal should express its concerns with the government of India regarding the recruitment process. We have also made a position on it but I am not hearing that noise and discussion at different levels. But we have to scrap the tripartite agreement signed in 1947,” said Bhatta.
It was the Maoist party that demanded the scrapping of the recruitment of Nepali youths in the Indian, British and other armies.
The Maoists, currently a partner in the government, for long demanded scrapping the recruitment of Nepali youths in the Indian Army. When they waged the war against the state in 1996 with a 40-point demand, ending Nepali youths’ recruitment in the Indian Army was one of the points.
Ram Karki, deputy head of the CPN (Maoist Centre)’s foreign relations department, said that since the Agnipath scheme has become controversial even in India and India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been accused of attempting to politicise the Indian Army, it is now up to India to decide about the Gurkha recruitment process.
“It is a loss to us. Earlier Nepalis used to serve in the Indian Army for 18-20 years and after retirement there was pension. Now people will come back after four years after serving in the Indian Army. What will they do after coming back? This issue we need to discuss before responding to the government of India.”
Nepalis for long have been working in the Indian Army—even before Indian independence in 1947. Nepali nationals draw billions of rupees as pension from Indian state coffers annually. As per data of the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, India distributed Rs44.73 billion as pension only in the year 2017.
After a pause in recruitment for two years due to the Covid pandemic, the Indian Army is recruiting around 1,300 Nepali youth in the Indian Army under the Gurkha regiments. A total of 34,000 Nepali youths are currently serving in Gurkha regiments at different ranks.
Arun Subedi, foreign relations advisor to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, confirmed to the Post that the government has received a request from the Indian side seeking permission for recruitment of Nepali youths in the Indian Army but no permission has been given yet.
Subedi said a meeting with senior government officials including Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Poudyal has been scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the matter.
According to sources, this year, the Indian Army is planning to recruit only 1,300 youths from Nepal and those who will be selected, only 25 percent will receive the pension. The rest youths will get the designated amount fixed by the government of India and will return to society.
Sources said that as soon as the Indian government launched the scheme, the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi had communicated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu regarding the scheme and suggested that the government should make a position on it because it could hugely affect the recruitment of Nepali youths in the Indian Army.
The matter was also discussed during the meetings of Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande and Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra with Shankar Sharma, Nepali ambassador to India, in late June and July.
Since Pande is set to arrive in Kathmandu in the first week of September to receive the title of the honorary chief of the Nepal Army, the Agnipath issue has got more traction again as the recruitment process has become uncertain, another official familiar with the matter told the Post.
Ranjit Rae, former Indian ambassador to Nepal, said that governments of Nepal and India should sit, talk and sort out the differences if there’s any confusion about the new recruitment process.
“The new recruitment scheme does not violate the tripartite agreement of 1947 because the Indian Army does not have discriminatory provisions. Whatever applies to Indian nationals will be applied to Nepali nationals too. But the Nepali side can look for more opportunities for those who come out as Agniveers after serving for four years in the Indian Army under the Gurkha Regiment,” Rae told the Post from New Delhi over the phone. “This should be seen as an employment opportunity too… not just through the lens of nationality and security because still there is a huge attraction among Nepali youths to join the Indian Army.”
After the scheme was launched in India, a section of former retired Indian Gurkha veterans had organised a seminar in New Delhi last month where people from various walks of life tried to analyse the future of Nepal-India ties in connection with the particular development.
Among them was General Ashok Mehta, a retired Indian Army official who led the Gurkha regiments and is well-versed in military and security relations between Nepal and India.
“We concluded in the seminar that Nepal-India ties will be affected after launching this scheme but still this serves in favor of Nepali youths and there is still great attraction among Nepali youths to join the Indian army,” Mehta told the Post.
Since the Indian Army took up the matter for resuming the recruitment process after two years of pause, Mehta has been closely following the issue with the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. Mehta served for a long time in Gurkha Regiment and retired from the post of Major General in 1991.
“As far as I know, the government of Nepal has not permitted the recruitment as per request by the Indian side. The Indian side had earlier planned to begin recruitment from August 25 in Butwal followed by Dharan on September 1, but due to uncertainty over the recruitment process, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu has not announced the commencement date.”
According to Mehata, the reduction in the number of recruitments from thousands to a few hundreds, will certainly affect Nepal-India ties.
“The Gurkha connection is one of the cornerstones of our ties. This will be weakened because it will limit the economic opportunity for aspiring Nepali youths,” said Mehta. “Some Nepali politicians’ understanding that the scheme violates the tripartite agreement of 1947 between the then British, Nepali and Indian governments is not true. The new scheme treats the youths of both the countries equally.”