By Ritu Sharma
It has been nearly a year since any Nepalese Gorkha/Gurkha was recruited into the Indian Army, breaking a two-centuries-old tradition, and the issue was not raised during the meeting of the two prime ministers.
Now India seeks to outwit China through Ramayana Corridor, a train journey crisscrossing through holy sites in both countries mentioned in the ancient Hindu Epic.
Prime Minister of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is on his first foreign visit to India after taking office in December 2022. The Prime Minister is expected to seek better recruitment terms for Gorkha soldiers getting a raw deal joining the Indian Army.
But the issue was neither raised by the Nepali Prime Minister nor by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, in a press conference after the joint statement issued by the Prime Minister of the two countries, categorically denied the issue coming up for discussion. This indicates that the impasse over recruiting Nepali Gorkha soldiers will continue.
The EurAsian Times had earlier reported that the centuries-old link between the two countries is now under duress because of the new recruitment scheme launched by the Indian Army in 2022.
Under the new Agnipath scheme (Path of Fire), the Indian Government has drastically altered the recruitment procedure to cut down the burgeoning pension bill and make the force younger and leaner. Under the new scheme, 75 percent of the recruits will retire after four years of service with a severance package but without pension benefits. Only 25 percent will be retained for longer service durations to get a pension.
The Nepali government had conveyed their misgivings about the new scheme to their Indian counterparts. It implored that the recruitment to the Indian Army should continue as per the tripartite treaty of 1947 between the UK, India, and Nepal.
The tripartite treaty of 1947 doesn’t recognize short-term services like Agnipath, and there is also a social cost for those returning to the country after just four years of service in the Indian Army.
Annually 1300 Gorkha soldiers from Nepal join the Indian Army. There are seven Gorkha regiments in the Indian Army, with 40 battalions and a total of 40,000 soldiers, but only one-fourth of them are of Nepalese origin.
There are 126,000 Gorkha pensioners of the Indian Army in Nepal. The Indian Army’s hands are also tied in the matter as it cannot have separate recruitment policies for different groups, officials explained.
Lord Rama Comes To Rescue The Failing Ties Between India And Nepal
Religious ties have been a resilient foundation for ties between the two South Asian countries. The two countries share the spiritual heritage of Hinduism. Lord Rama is revered in both countries.
Now India will be creating a trans-country railway network that underscores the two countries’ shared heritage in a bid to outwit China.
The Indian Railways will run a train to Nepal, creating a Ramayana Corridor. The railway line will connect Janakpur in Nepal with India.
The special train will be covering sites holy to Hindus across India and that played an essential role in the life of Lord Rama, including Ayodhya – the believed birthplace of Lord Ram, Sitamarhi, Buxar, Varanasi, Prayag, Chitrakoot, Nasik, Hampi, Rameshwaram, Kanchipuram, and Bhadrachalam.
Indian Foreign Secretary Kwatra added that work was in progress to identify the locations for the project. Ramayana is the ancient Hindu epic that is a biography of Lord Ram. The Ramayana corridor will take the Hindus from both countries to the places mentioned in the epic.
This is the second trans-country train that India will be starting to facilitate religious tourism between the two countries and strengthen the historical and spiritual connection.
The Indian Railway has created the first trans-country railway line to bring to life a Buddhist circuit that takes the traveler to the place where Buddha was born in Lumbini (in Nepal), where he attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya (in India), to where he delivered his first sermon in Sarnath (India), to where he lived and taught in Nalanda (India).
Buddhism has been a salient foundation of India’s cultural links to countries in South, Southeast, and East Asia. Buddhism, born in India, has been a part of its spiritual heritage. During its zenith in India, its emissaries traveled abroad with the teachings of Buddhism, and the religion took root in China through Tibet and Southeast Asia via Sri Lanka.
China has been projecting itself as the keeper of the Buddhist legacy’s heritage. India, where Buddhism waned, but its teachings still make a big part of the cultural ethos, started emphasizing giving the world this religion.
In 2022 China offered Nepal a Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network created by blasting tunnels through the mountainous Tibetan plateau under its flagship Belt and Road Initiative.
But the project has been marred by delays over finance. Touted as the ‘Tibet Train,’ a pre-feasibility study of this proposed railway network suggested that it would be “an engineering feat” and costly but not an “impossible task.”
The financial delays have pushed back the work on the rail link between China and Nepal. The Himalayan nation sees it as an extension of the promise made by Mao Zedong to the Nepali Monarch King Birendra in 1973 to build a railway line that will take you from Lhasa to Kathmandu.
The railway project gained momentum after an Indian blockade of landlocked Nepal in 2015. Given its frosty ties with India, the Nepali government considered it prudent to look for alternate trade routes. Nepal signed a framework agreement on the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), of which the railway link is a part.
The Chinese will bring the railway line to Kerung, extending its Tibet railway, by 2025. But its extension till Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, will be more arduous. The Nepali government also intends to extend the link to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.
Nepal and India have shared strong ties since the latter’s independence. A 1950 bilateral treaty made Nepal India’s protectorate and made India responsible for its defense. With time Nepal has been seeking changes in the treaty seeking a more equal status with India.
The relationship between the two countries has been downhill since the 2015 economic blockade of Nepal. The two countries hope the shared history with Lord Rama will keep their ties strong.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com