Nepal concerned over social implications of demobilised Agnipath returneesWhile the Gorkha recruitment process remains on hold, Nepali envoy to India says the two countries are discussing the issue at a high level.
India’s Agnipath scheme, which has come under fire in Nepal from some sections, is now being discussed at the highest political level, just as Delhi awaits Kathmandu’s response on the recruitment of Nepali youths under the plan.
On Monday, President Bidya Devi Bhandari sought to know about the Agnipath scheme and the government’s position on it during her meeting with Nepali Congress President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and other Congress leaders.
Officials said the issue figured during the meeting.
“At the meeting, Prime Minister Deuba said the Indian side has said Agnipath is beneficial to Nepali youths and that there has been a request to allow resumption of recruitment process,” said Tika Dhakal, expert advisor on information and communication to President Bhandari.
Besides Deuba, Congress vice presidents Dhanraj Gurung and Purna Bahadur Khadka, General Secretary Gagan Thapa, and Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gyanendra Bahadur Khadka were present at the meeting where other contemporary issues including the bill on the Citizenship Act were discussed.
“The President urged the prime minister and Congress leaders to discuss with other relevant stakeholders on what kind of policies the country needs on pressing issues including foreign policy, citizenship and the Agnipath scheme,” Dhakal told the Post.
Dhakal said that the President conveyed that she was not aware of whether the new Indian scheme is beneficial or not but the government, in consultations with other stakeholders, should discuss and formulate a national policy on the issue.
India had in June sought to know Nepal’s views on the Nepali youths’ recruitment under the Agnipath scheme. Nepal’s Foreign Ministry failed to respond.
The Foreign Ministry took the matter up with Prime Minister Deuba and other relevant stakeholders only three days prior to the scheduled selection of Nepali youths in the Indian Army.
On August 24, Foreign Minister Khadka called Indian Ambassador Naveen Srivastava to his office and communicated that the matter will be discussed with different stakeholders, and ruling and opposition parties before making a position.
After Nepal’s reservations with the Indian ambassador, selection of youths for the Indian Army from Butwal on August 25 was postponed.
The Foreign Ministry, however, has not consulted any stakeholders yet. And two meetings of the International relations and Human Rights Committee of Parliament this week and last week called to discuss the matter have been postponed.
The Indian Army has been historically recruiting Nepali youths under a tripartite agreement of 1947 between India, Nepal and UK governments.
Many say recruitment under the Agnipath scheme could backfire on Nepali youths. As per the Indian plan, from this year, 75 percent of those who will be recruited in Indian Armed forces will retire after serving for four years and will get INR 1.7 million as “Seva Nidhi Package”.
That’s where the concern lies. Many say what would those youths do post retirement after serving just for four years.
On Monday, ahead of Prime Minister Deuba’s meeting with President Bhandari, Indian Ambassador Srivastava had called on the former.
According to sources at Baluwatar, Srivastva was accompanied by a delegation of the Indian National Defense College.
The Indian ambassador held a separate meeting with Deuba after a meeting with the college delegation and both discussed Agnipath among other issues.
“We also got a sense that the Indian side was not happy at the way Foreign Minister Khadka summoned the Indian envoy,” an official familiar with the meeting told the Post.
During his meeting with Srivastava, Minister Khadka had said that those who retire after serving in the Indian Army for four years might be misused and that could pose security threats to Nepal.
India is planning to recruit around 1,300 Nepali youths in the Indian Army under the Agnipath scheme.
With Nepal undecided on whether to allow India to recruit Nepali youths for its armed forces, the selection process remains on hold.
Some officials say the issue could figure during Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande’s visit to Nepal.
Pande will arrive in Kathmandu on September 4 to receive the title of the honorary general of the Nepal Army from President Bhandari as per a long-standing tradition between the two armies.
General Pande is scheduled to call on President Bhandari and Prime Minister and Defense Minister Deuba apart from holding bilateral talks with his Nepali counterpart General Prabhu Ram Sharma.
“The Nepal Army does not have any different position than the Nepal government,” said Brigadier General Narayan Silwal, Nepal Army spokesperson. “It’s a matter of a mere speculation if the matter related to Agnipath will be discussed as the visit by the Indian Army chief is a routine one as per the longstanding tradition.”
“If the government seeks our position on relevant matters we do share our views but those are not for public or media consumption,” he added. “As of now, the government has not sought our views on the matter. If we are asked to offer our views, we will. But our position is not different from the government’s.”
Opinions are divided in Nepal among experts and politicians over Nepalis’ recruitment in the Indian Army under the Agnipath scheme.
Some party leaders including those from the CPN-UML have urged the government to make a studied decision on the matter, by analysing the consequences after the retirees return.
Suresh Sharma, former Nepal Army brigadier general, says since the Agnipath scheme has become controversial in India itself, Nepal should proceed with it without analysing the pros and cons.
“The question for us to take into consideration is what we would do with those who return after four years of of service in the Indian Army,” Sharma told the Post. “Since India has been recruiting the youths from Nepal under the tripartite agreement, it should have consulted Nepal before launching it.”
According to Sharma, the Indian government has launched the scheme to meet its short-term military requirements, which is a quick remedy for them.
“We need to think about addressing the unemployment gap in Nepal but can we absorb the force that returns after serving for four years in the Indian Army,” said Sharma. “Those who return after a short-term service in the Indian Army, they can be misused by some elements and become a security threat. So without analysing the long-term benefits and impact, we have to step back. As far as India is concerned, it can absorb such retirees. We can’t.”
Both Sharma and Basnyat agree that the retirement issue is there, but Agnipath remains an attractive employment opportunity for Nepali youths.
“Can we stop our youths from going for foreign employment?” asked Basnyat. “Those who return after serving for four years in the Indian Army, we can use their experience and skill inside the country for safeguarding the territorial integrity.
“If deprived of recruitment in the Indian Army, our unemployed male youths across the country could lose the job opportunity and the said amount that is close to Rs2 million,” said Sharma. “In the military, salary is accumulated unless spent. The total sum comes around Rs4 million which they can utilise for small start-up businesses of their choice. After having served in a disciplined, professional armed forces, these physically and mentally well-built youths could be good national manpower as well.”
Meanwhile Nepali envoy to India Shankar Prasad Sharma has said talks are underway on the Agnipath scheme between India and Nepal.
“Nepal has stopped [recruitment] for a while. They are negotiating and talking with the different political parties. They will come and decide (on the issue) very soon,” Indian news agency ANI said, quoting Sharma on Wednesday.
Ambassador Sharma, during his interview with Indian media said Nepal’s main concern is the management of the demobilised servicemen after Nepali youths return home after serving briefly in the Indian Army.
“When 75 percent of the people basically de-mobilised, what could be the implication in the society,” Sharma told the ANI this week. He indicated that during the visit of Indian Army chief Pande next week, the matter would be discussed between Nepali and Indian authorities.