Kathmandu: The Chief of the Indian Army, General Manoj Pande, is in Kathmandu. He arrived in Kathmandu on Sunday at the official invitation of Chief of Nepal Army Staff Prabhu Ram Sharma. On Monday, he handed over military equipment worth Rs 223 million to Nepal Army as assistance. He was also conferred the insignia of the honorary title of the General of the Nepal Army by Nepal President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
Kathmandu, however, is looking for an answer to the question related to a different subject matter–the Agneepath scheme about which there are concerns, controversies, and confusion.
What is Agnipath?
The government of India on June 14 introduced a new recruitment scheme, called Agnipath, for Indian youth to serve in the Armed Forces of India. The youth selected under this scheme will be known as Agniveers. Under the scheme, the youth will serve in India’s armed forces for a period of four years.
According to the fact sheet uploaded on the website of Indian Army, under this scheme, the selected candidates will be elected as Agniveers for four years. Of these, only 25 percent may be selected to be enrolled in the Armed Forces as regular cadres after four years. Candidates from 17 ½ to 21 years can apply. All Agniveers after completing their engagement period can apply for enrolment in the Regular Cadre but these applications will be considered by a centralized transparent rigorous screening system which would be based on merit and demonstrated performance during four years of service. Up to 25 percent of the Aginveers would be selected for enrolment in the Regular Cadre as per the existing Terms and Conditions, says the fact sheet.
According to the fact sheet, each Agniveer gets IRs 4.76 lakhs in first year, which can be uprated up to IRs 6.92 lakhs in the fourth year. After four years of service, an Agniveer gets IRs 11.71 lakhs as Seva Nidhi.
In India itself, Indian military veterans have heavily criticized the scheme by saying that it could lead to the ‘militarisation of society and affect the future of serving personnel, hitting the professionalism, ethos, and fighting spirit of the forces. Indian youths have protested against the scheme in the states of UP, Bihar and Haryana.
Concerns in Nepal
There is no separate arrangement under the Agnipath scheme for recruiting Nepalis in Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army–which means Nepali nationals joining Gorkha regiments will also be Agniveers, who will serve for four years, the majority of whom (at least 75 percent) will be sent back to the country after receiving Seva Nidhi.
But New Delhi appeared to go ahead with the scheme, without consulting Nepal. Reportedly, the plan was to start the recruitment of Nepali youths in Agnipath in Butwal from August 25 and Dharan from September 1. It is then that Nepal’s Foreign Ministry raised the concern: Nepal asked India to postpone the plan to recruit Nepalis as Agniveers.
Kathmandu is unhappy with the Agnipath scheme because it violates the principles and provisions of the Nepal-UK-India Tripartite Agreement concerning the rights of Gorkha soldiers in British and Indian armies.
Kathmandu is unhappy with the Agnipath scheme because it violates the principles and provisions of the Nepal-UK-India Tripartite Agreement concerning the rights of Gorkha soldiers in British and Indian armies that were signed on November 9, 1947. The agreement does not envisage the Gorkhas (whether in the Indian or British Army) as contractual soldiers serving for four years and returning to the society thereafter. According to the agreement (as cited in Himal Khabar), a Gorkha is entitled to serve until he is entitled to pension benefits. There is no provision of pension in Agnipath and there is a slim chance of serving for 15 years for those who enter the force as Agniveer.
Nepal has expressed concerns particularly on three issues: Violation of the tripartite agreement, lack of provision of pension and recruitment for four years.
Experts in Kathmandu have said that India bypassed Nepal while taking this decision. Agnipath scheme violates the tripartite agreement, Nepali scholar and advocate Yubaraj Sangroula told Himalkhabar on August 21. Historian Pratyoush Onta said India should have consulted Nepal before taking such a decision.
Former Indian ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae was also of the opinion that India should have consulted Nepal about it.
Nepali military officials have also raised questions about the Agnipath scheme. According to them, both Nepal and India should make the Indian Military Chief’s Nepal visit the occasion to come clean on Agnipath.
“Nepali Prime Minister, who is also the defense minister, should clearly communicate the concerns of Nepalis about Agnipath with General Pande,” said Prem Singh Basnyat, who served as the Brigadier General of Nepal Army. “An individual may choose to become an Agnivir by his own choice under the Agnipath scheme, but Nepal as a country should not agree to the Agnipath scheme. And we should not agree to allow our youths to join the Agnipath,” he added.
According to Basnyat one major consideration why Nepali youth or any youth for that matter joins the Gorkha regiment is pension and benefits after retirement. “A pensioner of the Indian Army enjoys so many benefits including health and education benefits for his family and children. When you deprive the soldiers of pension, you are treating them as mercenaries,” said Basnyat. “And mind it,” said Basnyat, “the tripartite agreement is against treating the Gorkhas like mercenaries. As a matter of fact, we Nepalis have always been proud soldiers. We have never been mercenaries nor will we ever become.”
When they return home after serving for four years and handling the arms and when they do not get jobs here, which are already scarce, they could be used by different elements against the interest of our neighbors and friends. “This is something we really need to worry about,” said Basnyat.
Suresh Sharma, a former Nepal Army Spokesperson who also was the Brigadier General, expressed similar concerns.
“The question is whether the Agnipath goes in line with the tripartite agreement. The answer is it does not,” said Sharma.
In his view, if individual Nepali wishes to join Agnipath s/he may do so but the state should not sign any official document to that effect.
“If anyone wants to go individually we cannot stop them. But as long as the tripartite agreement is in effect, the Gorkhas of Nepal should be able to avail the privileges as granted by the tripartite agreement. Let there be recruitment as per the tripartite agreement. Nepal will have no objection to it,” he said.