Neighbourhood First: India-Nepal ties to reset! Army Chief to visit the Himalayan Kingdom

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October 15, 2020 4:37 PM

Meanwhile, in a new development, ahead of the Indian Army Chief’s scheduled visit, in a major the Nepalese Cabinet reshuffle, the Defence minister Ishwar Pokhrel has been removed. He is the man who had also opposed the visit of the Army Chief and has been seen as India’s critic.

As such, Chiefs of both the armies visit each other’s country at least once in their tenures for the associated ceremonials.

In an effort to mend ties with Nepal, Army chief General MM Naravane will travel to the neighbouring country in the first week of November. The visit comes amid the strained ties between the two countries. The Army Chief’s visit to Nepal is the first high profile visit since the times the relations between the two took a hit earlier this year.

Meanwhile, in a new development, ahead of the Indian Army Chief’s scheduled visit, in a major the Nepalese Cabinet reshuffle, the Defence minister Ishwar Pokhrel has been removed. He is the man who had also opposed the visit of the Army Chief and has been seen as India’s critic.

Why is the Army Chief visiting Nepal?

As per the tradition which was started in 1950, Gen Naravane would be conferred upon the honorary rank of ‘General of the Nepal Army’ by the Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari. This is a reciprocal gesture. The chief of the Nepalese Army will be conferred the honorary rank of ‘General of Indian Army’.

As such, Chiefs of both the armies visit each other’s country at least once in their tenures for the associated ceremonials.

Also on the agenda of the visit is Gen Naravane’s extensive talks with his Nepalese counterpart General Purna Chandra Thapa and also other senior military officials. The focus will be on deepening defence cooperation between the two countries.

Why did the ties strain?

Soon after defence minister Rajnath Singh in May had inaugurated the 80-km-long road which connects the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand. At that time the government of Nepal had raised its objections claiming that the said pass was going through its territory.

This was followed by a constitutional amendment approved by the government of Nepal which allowed it to make changes in its map and Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura were marked as its territories.

India-Nepal Ties to improve with the removal of Mr Pokhrel

According to reports, Mr Pokhrel who has been a critic of India will now be attached to the office of the Prime Minister Oli and will not hold any portfolio. He is considered to be the person who was trying to provoke India’s Gorkha soldiers.

In August this year, Prime Minister Oli had called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi and extended greetings on India’s 74th Independence Day. And he is also responsible for stopping the distribution of books with revised political maps of Nepal.

Significance of the visit — Views of former Army officers

Sharing his views, Brig SK Chatterji says, “The Indian Army chief Gen Naravane had caused a stir when he raised the possibility of ‘third party’ influence after the controversy between India and Nepal in the strategically important areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiadhaura. He would be having talks with Gen PS Thapa, the Nepalese Chief.

“With the Chinese also intruding into Nepalese areas, it’s time for Kathmandu to re-evaluate its relations with the two giants. The Indian side has, of course, to be very sensitive in its approach, as is the requirement for all bigger nations when they deal with smaller countries; especially neighbours,” Brig Chatterji observes

Says Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd) “The timing of the visit has generated interest all around, suffice to say, the China Virus Pandemic, the intrusions of the Chinese along the Line of Actual Control and the Military Talks by the Corps Commanders over the past few months would have kept the Chief Gen Naravane busy with the issues at home.”

“The domestic politics of Nepal and its statements on the boundary issue should be seen as a bit of arm twisting as well as a bit of coercive diplomacy by the charming Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Ms Hou Yanqi. The Nepalese press did give her a lot of coverage and that remains their business,” he says.

“Indo Nepal relationship cannot be viewed from a Chinese prism, its historical and will continue to flourish despite hiccups now and then,” Lt Col Channan concludes.

Gorkhas in the Indian Army

“The linkage between Gorkhas and their serving in Indian forces predates the Britishers. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had raised a Gorkha battalion as a part of his forces. The East Indian Company recruited them, thereafter. Most Gorkha battalions were amalgamated with the Indian or the British Army in 1947, during the Indian independence. The British Gorkha battalions have fought alongside British soldiers in Falklands. They have also participated as part of the British contingents in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Kosovo and in a few other places.” Says Brig Chatterji.

According to him, “Indian Army has six Gorkha Regiments, with a total of approximately 32,000 Gorkhas. Field Marshal SAM Manekshaw, a couple of Army Chiefs and India’s first Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat are all from the Gorkhas. The Gorkhas have produced a large family of flag officers over the years. They have also won numerous gallantry awards.”

In Eastern Ladakh, where we are now faced with Chinese incursions, the 1st Battalion 8th Gorkha Rifles fought the battle of Gurung Hill and stalled the Chinese advance towards Chushul, in 1962. The battles of Gurung Hill and Rezang La, where 13 Kumaon fought, had put paid to Chinese ambitions in the sector, decisively. The recruitment of ethnic Gorkhas into the Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army is an ongoing process and provides a fairly lucrative employment avenue.

There is also a sizeable family of Gorkha pensioners of Indian Army residing in Nepal. “The recent calls at Kathmandu for stopping the recruitment of Nepalese in the Indian Army is not in Nepal’s interests. In fact, Nepalese citizens are employed productively in every sector of the Indian economy and remit a substantial portion of their incomes back home. The Kathmandu regime closing such opportunities, however much it might please a third country, will not go well on the Nepalese streets and does not make a sustainable winning argument in Nepalese domestic politics,” opines Brig Chatterji.

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