Nepal was in the news in 2020, but the MoD’s tinkering with the legendary Gorkha Regiments slipped under the radar. For diehard Gorkhas, it was like fake news: the recent report stated that the Army Headquarters had sanctioned for next two years’ recruitment from Uttarakhand of Garhwalis and Kumaonis for three Gorkha regiments from the next recruitment cycle.
This is the first time that non-Gorkhas are being recruited in Gorkha units. Last year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, no recruitment had taken place and the 1, 5 and 8 Gorkha regiments — already deficient of 100 to 150 soldiers in each battalion from the authorised strength of 850 — would be worse off.
Tinkering with the fixed-class composition of the single-caste infantry regiments, especially Gorkha battalions which are drawn predominantly from Nepal, is an unwise step when easier options are available. If, as seems likely, it is a political decision, though some discount it, it has the potential to undermine a valuable Indian strategic asset in the politically contested Nepal and the haloed infantry regimental system.
Gorkhas were recruited in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army in Lahore much before they joined the British Indian Army in 1815. Any Nepalese who becomes a soldier of fortune is called Lahure. The British kept the Gorkhas insulated from other Indian regiments and only the British were allowed to command them till the Partition, when most Gorkha regiments volunteered to remain in India.
When the 5th Gorkhas was raised (1815) initially, it had one-third each of Gorkhas, Kumaonis and Garhwalis as Gorkhas were not available in sufficient numbers as Rana rulers would not allow it.