On July 10, Havildar Sambur Gurung (36), a soldier from Nepal serving in the Gurkha regiment, was killed in cross-border firing along the Line of Control in Nowshera sector of Jammu. Coming amidst the chill in the Indo-Nepal ties, Gurung’s supreme sacrifice is a reminder about the strong ties between the Indian and Nepalese armed forces. Soldiers from Nepal form a significant part of the Indian Army’s legendary Gurkha regiment. Here is a brief explainer on the origin and evolution of these ties:
The origin of India’s military ties with Nepal
Former Army Chief Gen VP Malik (retd), who has dedicated a chapter to Nepal in his book ‘India’s Military Conflicts & Diplomacy’, says India’s military connection with the Himalayan country goes back to the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh whose army in Lahore enlisted Nepalese soldiers called Lahure or soldiers of fortune.
British India raised the first battalion of the Gurkha Regiment as the Nasiri regiment on April 24, 1815. By the time the First World War started, there were 10 Gurkha regiments in the British Indian Army.
When India got freedom, these regiments were divided between the British and Indian armies as per the Britain–India–Nepal Tripartite Agreement signed in November 1947. Six Gurkha regiments with a lakh-odd soldier came to India, which went on to raise another regiment called 11 Gurkha Rifles to accommodate soldiers of 7th Gurkha Rifles and the 10th Gurkha Rifles, who chose not to transfer to the British Army.
Can Nepali citizens join the Indian Army?
Yes, any Nepali can join the Indian Army, both as a jawan and as an officer. A citizen of Nepal can take the National Defence Academy or Combined Defence Services exams and join the Indian Army as an officer. Col Lalit Rai, who received a Vir Chakra for the bravery of his battalion, the 1/11 Gurkha Rifles, during the Kargil war, is one such officer of Nepalese descent.
The Nepalese army also sends its officers for training to India’s military academies and combat colleges.
The Gurkha regiments, which have 35 battalions, recruit a large number of troops from Nepal.
Lt Gen DS Hooda (retd), the Northern Army commander during the surgical strikes of 2016, who was commissioned into 4th Gurkhas, vouches for the strong inter-personal ties between the soldiers and officers of the two countries due to the Gurkha regiments. “Every year, our battalions commission a tour of Nepal. Young officers from India trek to traditional recruiting areas in the rugged Himalayas, meet the locals, and often live in villages with ex-servicemen.”
Both the officers and the troops are fiercely proud of their war cry ‘Jai Maha Kali, Ayo Gorkhali’, the khukri, and their command over Gurkhali language. Lt Gen Depinder Singh (retd), former chief of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), and an officer of the Gurkha regiment, recalls how in the initial years after Independence, any officer who could not master Gurkhali in three months was shifted to another regiment.
Do the soldiers from Nepal enjoy the same rights as the Indian troops?
Yes, they enjoy the same benefits as the India troops both during service and after retirement. They get the same medical facilities as the Indian soldiers, and often medical teams from the Indian Army tour Nepal. Unlike the British, who started giving the Nepalese soldiers pension only a few years ago, the Indian Army has never discriminated against the Nepalese soldiers, who can avail of healthcare facilities in India as well. The Indian Army also runs welfare projects in Nepal villages, including small water and power projects.
Is the Indian Chief of Army Staff the honorary chief of the Nepalese army?
Yes, this convention dates back to 1972 when then Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, a Gurkha regiment officer, fondly called Sam Bahadur by his troops, was made the honorary chief of the Nepalese army. Ever since, the Army chief of India is the honorary chief of the Nepalese army and vice-versa.