“Will the Nepal government start recruiting Madhesis into the army?” An Indian journalist had asked the visiting Nepali Prime Minister, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, in June 1990.
“Why don’t you ask your Prime Minister if he would start recruiting Madhesis from Nepal into the Indian Gorkha regiment,” he replied, pointing towards his Indian counterpart, V P Singh, seated next to him at a Shastri Bhavan joint press conference during his state visit.
Today, 26 years down the line, the recruitment of Madhesis into the Gorkhas and the grievances of retired soldiers are once again making news with interested groups asking Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to raise their issues with the Indian government during his state visit which began on Thursday.
A prominent Madhesi leader told Dahal that the Madhesis should get around 50 per cent quota in the Gorkha regiments. Along with the recruitment issue, the Federation of Ex-Gorkhas, an umbrella organisation of over 104,000 Gorkha pensioners settled in Nepal after retirement, is unhappy over two issues that they want Dahal to convey to the Indian government: first, the return of the bodies of dead Gorkha soldiers and second, the payment of pension to family members of the deceased. The Gorkhas were happy to hear Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh profusely praise them during their individual visits to Nepal in 2014 but the Gorkhas feel justice is not being done to the sacrifices they have made.
They are annoyed that the bodies of ‘Gorkhas’ who died in conflict, mainly post Kargil, cannot to be brought back to their families for the last rites and other customs. “We are not being treated at par with the Indian soldiers dying in action,” the Federation said, and want Dahal to discuss this matter with Modi.
The second demand relates to the mounting number of claims for transfer of pension to the families of the Gorkhas after their death, and their `’being denied justice over the years’’. According to the Federation around 4,500 cases had been settled in favour of the claimants by the last tribunal but there are approximately 30,000 cases pending since 1998.
The Federation had submitted a memorandum to senior BJP leader Bhagat Singh Kosiary who heads the group of Eminent Persons Group (EPG) that reviews Nepal-India relations, during his visit to Kathmandu last month. He simply invited them to Delhi for ‘discussions’.
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A treaty signed between the governments of Nepal and British East India in 1815, following Nepal’s defeat, marked the beginning of the Gorkha recruitment process, and 10 regiments were raised, accordingly. The Gorkhas were asked to choose between India and UK in 1947 under the tri-lateral arrangement of 1947 between independent India, Britain and Nepal.
While the U K has gradually downsized the Gorkhas regiments over the years, there are currently around 40,000 serving in the Indian Army.