Connecting Regions of Asia.

What About India’s Gorkha Regiments?


The Gorkhas have participated in nearly every campaign of the Indian Army since Independence and their valour is ingrained in the hearts and minds of the people of the country.

The recruitment of the Nepalese Gorkhas into the Indian Army stems from an arrangement agreed to in 1947 between India, the UK and Nepal, known as the Tripartite Agreement.

The Government of Nepal, continuing its recent saga of needling India and trying to dismantle the special relations between the two countries, appears to be suggesting a renegotiation or even stoppage of the recruitment of Nepalese Gorkhas in the Indian Army. Its demands could involve having a say in the recruitment or on the deployment — issues that may be difficult to agree to.

The general belief is that the Gorkhas in the Indian Army are a legacy of the Anglo-Gurkha war and the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli. But the history runs deeper. In Nepal, to this date, Gorkha recruits to the Indian Army are known as ‘Lahure’, i.e. those who have gone to serve the court in Lahore!

The Kingdom of Nepal was founded in 1769 by Prithvi Narayan Shah, the ruler of Gorkha, by bringing other principalities in Nepal under his control. The next fifty years saw the ambitious Gorkhas in territorial contestation with the East India Company to the east and south and several princely states in India to the west.

On the western side, their expansionary quest saw the Nepalese capturing Kumaon and Garhwal and reach Kangra. This was in 1809. Here, they were stopped by the Sikh Army and had to accept a truce with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The defeat at Sugauli really clipped Nepalese wings and they had to surrender land in the terai that they had come to control. Nepal’s western and eastern borders were also restricted to the Mahakali (Sharda) and Meechi river, respectively. Interestingly, it is this delineation that ensured that Shimla and Darjeeling remained in British India.

Coming back to the Gorkhas, impressed by their valour and hardiness, Maharaja Ranjit Singh sought them for his Army after the Kangra confrontation and made the first recruitment of Gorkhas in a modern Army in India. Many of them saw action in the Afghanistan campaign of the Sikhs in 1822. In 1845, at the time of the First Anglo-Sikh war, the Fauj-e-Khas of the Sikh Army boasted of a Gorkha paltan. This employment by the court of Lahore has stuck in Nepal and the soldiers continue to be known colloquially as ‘Lahure’.

Meanwhile, the Sikh armies had reached Tibet with the Zorawar Singh mission winning many a battle in 1841 and reaching Taklakot near the Nepalese border. Here, however, they were overcome by the harsh Tibetan weather and lost their leader and many soldiers found themselves stranded. In 1854, the Nepalese defeated the Tibetans and in 1855, signed a treaty with Lhasa known as the Thappathali Treaty. Most interestingly, it contained a specific clause allowing for the return of the stranded Sikh soldiers. Nearly 100 of them are reported to have returned via Nepal with several being honoured in Kathmandu when they got there.

Later, the Sikhs and Gorkhas became important allies of the British and made available substantial help in the lifting of the siege of Delhi and Lucknow in 1857. The Nepalese were rewarded by the return of lands that had been taken from them by the Treaty of Sugauli in the areas around what is known today as Bardiya National Park, a most well-known tiger reserve.

And, both the Sikhs and Gorkhas greatly benefited by their vastly increased recruitment thereafter in the British Indian Army. This happened because they were declared ‘martial races’ under the pseudo-scientific justification of those fit for battle to recruit soldiers from certain castes and regions of India for the British-Indian Army.

This preference is best illustrated by the recruiting figures for the British- Indian Army for World War I. Out of roughly eight lakh fighting men recruited from July 1914 to the end of November 1918, around 90,000 were Sikhs and 56,000 Gorkhas — two small populations contributing roughly 20 per cent of the entire recruitment. The predominant position of the Sikhs and Gorkhas in the Army, in fact, made them pivotal to the governance of British India.

At the time of India’s Independence, the 10 Gorkha regiments of the British- Indian Army were divided between India and the UK. India was allocated six of these regiments — later, a seventh one was raised to accommodate Gorkhas from regiments allocated to the UK who did not wish to join the British Army. These seven regiments comprise 38 battalions whose composition was only Nepalese initially, but now around a third of the soldiers are Gorkhas from India. This is reflective of the growing population of Gorkhas in India and their demand to be recruited in the Indian Army. Indeed, a 39th battalion, raised in 2015, has only Indian Gorkhas. If the Government of Nepal plays truant on the recruitment of Nepalese Gorkhas, the size of the Gorkha population in India should allow for the Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army to be largely sustained. Of course, these soldiers won’t be known as ‘Lahure’ in their hometowns and villages.

Courtesy – tribuneindia

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