Tribals likely to fill the void in Indian Army’s Gorkha regiment

Soldiers of the Gorkha Rifles are known for their devotion to duty, bravery, loyalty and discipline.

Published: 23rd July 2023 09:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd July 2023 02:17 PM   |  A+A-

Indian Army

Image used for representational purpose only. (Photo | PTI)

NEW DELHI: With the induction of Gorkhas from Nepal on hold for the past couple of years, the Indian Army is planning to recruit tribals from within India with similar traits to address the fast-depleting strength of the famed kukri-wielding Gorkha Rifles (GR). 

Officials told The New Indian Express the plan will kick off if the impasse over recruitment from Nepal does not get resolved soon. 

Explaining the idea of recruiting “tribals with similar traits”, an official said those with the physical attributes residing in the upper reaches of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Darjeeling may be considered. 

Soldiers of the Gorkha Rifles are known for their devotion to duty, bravery, loyalty and discipline. The Gorkhas have a fearsome reputation built over the last two centuries with their exemplary war-time successes. Their motto is “better to die than be a coward”.

The term Gorkhas is popularly used for Nepalese soldiers serving in the Indian Army, British Gorkha Brigade and Singapore Police. In the Indian Army, Gorkhas serve in the Gorkha Rifles, Naga Regiment, Assam Regiment, and Unit of Guards Regiment. All these are under the Ministry of Defence. They also join the Assam Rifles, which provides support to the Army but is under the administrative charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs.  

A similar experimental step to expand the recruitment pool was taken in 2021, by allowing a higher number of youth from Garhwal and Kumaon region of Uttarakhand to join select regiments of the GR. The policy decision was also to stop the recruitment of the Nepalese youth to the Naga Regiment, Assam Regiment and the Unit of Guards regiment. The plan is to re-assess this policy in 2024.

The Army’s contingency plan comes amidst the Nepal government’s decision to put on hold the drafting of their citizens into the Indian Army’s Gorkha infantry regiments over some objections to the Agnipath scheme. 

Interestingly after the Anglo-Nepal war (1814- 1816) William Fraser the Political Agent in Nepal had reorganised the 7000-strong irregular levy into four Gorkha battalions. These had comprised mainly of the Kumaonis, Garhwali, Sirmouri hill men; and Nepalese from Nepal. Sirmaur is in Himachal.

Arindam Bagchi, Spokesperson Indian foreign ministry said, “We have been recruiting Gorkha soldiers into the Indian Army for a long time. And we look forward to continuing to recruit Gorkha soldiers in the Indian Army under the Agnipath scheme,” The Nepalese side had informed India to wait on the plan to recruit Nepali youths under the new scheme.

It was in June 2022 that the Indian Government announced the new recruitment scheme under which youths between age 17 and a half and 21 years are getting inducted under the Agnipath Scheme for a period of four years with 25 per cent getting inducted permanently after it. The rest of the people would not be entitled to a pension.

Since then no youth from Nepal has joined Indian Army. Prior to the introduction of the Agnipath scheme, the Nepalese youths were being recruited under a Tripartite Agreement between India, Nepal and Britain which was signed in 1947, allowing continued recruitment of Nepalese into the armies of India and Britain.

It is to be noted a tripartite treaty called the ‘Memorandum of Agreement on Recruitment of Gorkha Troops’ was signed on May 1, 1947, and was ratified on November 9, 1947.

Later in 1950, a Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed between the two countries which reinforced the right of Nepalese citizens to work in India and for equal national treatment. There was no mention of any terms of engagement or other benefits in the annexure.

As reported earlier by The New Indian Express, a source in the Indian Army said that the Agnipath Scheme is neither violating the Tripartite Agreement nor discriminating against anyone. “The Gorkhas would get the same salaries and facilities as what their Indian counterparts would.”

At present around 25,000 Nepal Domicile Gorkhas are serving in the Indian Army’s Gorkha regiments in its 43 battalions which are composed of Indian soldiers as well as those recruited from Nepal.

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