Why India Should Offer Nepal A Better Transit Deal And Citizenship To Serving Gorkha Armymen

R Jagannathan

Aug 03, 2020, 11:51 AM | Updated 11:43 AM IST

The Gorkhas. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
The Gorkhas. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
  • It is time to rethink our relationship with Nepal and make it more equal. But it must also be clear that equality cuts both ways.
  • We can equally use the Gorkha citizenship card.
  • There is little doubt that recent smoke signals from Nepal are distinctly unfriendly. Whether this new belligerence is due to Chinese instigation or domestic political imperatives does not matter.

    Aggressive statements – and claims on Indian territory in the Kalapani-Lipulekh area of Uttarakhand – imply that the old relationship is past its sell-by date. India-Nepal relations have to move forward, not backward. This means, at the right time, India should reinitiate talks to sort these issues.

    Nepal has issued three statements recently, of which one is only intended to irritate us. This is about Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli claiming that the real Ayodhya was in Nepal, and that Lord Ram was born there. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Ram bhakts need not get hot under the collar.

    The right response is the one given by Uma Bharti. She said that Shri Ram is everywhere, and she would be glad if Nepal built a grand temple for him there. India should offer donations for the same.

    The other two statements relate to the use of Gorkha personnel in our army, and sending the new map of Nepal claiming the Kalapani-Lipulekh areas to various United Nations (UN) agencies. The UN can’t do anything about maps; we can anyway bar these agencies from using these maps when they deal with India, just as we do with Google or foreign publications which show the Jammu and Kashmir map differently outside India.

    The Gorkha army personnel issue is another matter. Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali said the other day that the 1947 tripartite agreement between Nepal, UK and India to induct Gorkha soldiers into their armies was redundant and needed to be renegotiated.

    He is quoted as saying: “Gorkha recruitment is a legacy of the past. It has various aspects. It opened the window for Nepali youths to go abroad. It created a lot of jobs in the society in the past, but in the present context, some provisions in the agreement are questionable. So, we should start discussions on its various objectionable aspects…The 1947 tripartite agreement has become redundant.”

    This is not an unreasonable statement, but Gyawali is being economical with the truth. The recruitment of Gorkhas in the Indian Army is not a minor issue with no relevance to the present.

    According to one estimate, there are currently 32,000 Gorkhas serving in seven Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army, and the last army chief, Gen Bipin Rawat, who is the current Chief of Defence Staff, was from Gorkha Rifles.

    India can easily replace the serving part of the Gorkha regiments quickly, but the loss of economic benefits to present and retired Nepali members of the Indian Army is not small at all, for Gorkhas have served in the Indian Army for more than seven decades after Independence. Many receive pensions that are far superior to what Nepalese can earn in their country.

    However, it needs to be acknowledged that agreements allowing one country’s nationals to participate in the defence of other countries is rare, unless these are backed by mutual defence pacts and military bases – as the US has with Saudi Arabia, Japan or South Korea.

    In Nepal’s case, India is not only the biggest user of Gorkha recruits in the army, but the Indo-Nepalese Treaty allows Nepali citizens to move freely between the two countries and take up jobs in this country. If Nepal wants to rework these ties, so be it. We should negotiate in earnest.

    Two things can happen, assuming this is not another Nepali bluff. If the soft border between India and Nepal becomes hard, we need to complement that with two other ideas: one involves a more liberal treaty on trade and transit; and the other is an offer of citizenship for Gorkhas serving in the Indian Army, provided they give up their Nepali citizenship.

    If we put both these ideas on the table, Nepal may back off, but the offer of better terms on trade and transit is needed to make Nepal less dependent on China for its trade.

    The offer of Indian citizenship to Gorkhas may well work, for there are many people of Nepali or Gorkha origin who are already Indian citizens – in Sikkim, north Bengal, and even parts of Assam, not to speak of the rest of the country.

    The Nepalese government and politicians may be uncomfortable with the kind of leverage India has with its ethnic people, but the only two things India can offer insecure and identity-conscious Nepal is to treat Nepal as an equal, and a trade and transit deal that works well for it.

    There is no reason why Nepal cannot use any Indian port for its trade, as long as it guarantees that these routes will not be used against our interests to smuggle things that are banned in India, or to move terrorists through India.

    It is time to rethink our relationship with Nepal and make it more equal. But it must also be clear that equality cuts both ways. We can equally use the Gorkha citizenship card.

    The logic is simple, even if it means tweaking citizenship laws. Someone who serves India by defending it on the borders is worthy of citizenship. Fresh citizenship can be offered to serving Nepali armymen and future recruits only. Not retired personnel.

    Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.

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