(Editor’s Note: The views are that of the author’s. For the writer’s other interests, read the credit line at the end of the article.)
By Lieutenant General Shokin Chauhan
At the time of Independence in 1947, there were 10 Gorkha Regiments in the Indian Army. Although Pakistan also made a bid for the surplus Gorkha Regiments, they did not press their claim, and, of course, Nepal could not be expected to go along with that claim.
Six Gorkha Regiments were earmarked for the Indian Army and four for the British Army. It was also decided that a referendum be held in all Gorkha units for the Gorkha soldier to give his choice for service in the Indian or the British Army.
Till 1947, the British had debarred Indians from joining the officer cadre of Gorkha Regiments. Even when Gorkha soldiers from Gorkha Regiments got promoted to commissioned ranks, they were not accommodated in Gorkha Regiments. They were posted to different Indian Regiments.
British officers fervently believed that, as the Gorkha soldiers had been serving only under them, and they had no contact with Indian officers, the result of the referendum among Gorkha soldiers was a foregone conclusion. But the results of the referendum came as a great, rude shock to them.
Well over 90 per cent of the Gorkha soldiers opted for service with the Indian Army. Non-optees from Gorkha Regiments earmarked for service with the British Army were drafted into newly raised battalions of Gorkha Regiment allotted to the Indian Army.
A new Gorkha Regiment, namely the 11 Gorkha Rifles, had also to be raised for these non-optees. After Indian Independence, Indian officers were posted to Gorkha units for the first time.
It took a few months for these units to settle down with a completely new set of officers. Thus, in the initial months of the 1947-48 war in Jammu and Kashmir, there was no participation of Gorkha units.
However, later, they more than made up for it in Kashmir. The Gorkhas distinguished themselves in the assault on 10,000 feet Pir Kanthi Hill and in the epic battle of Zojila. During the advance to Kargil, Subedar Harka Bahadur Gurung swam across an icy cold swift flowing river in winter to enable a rope bridge to be built.
Even today, the concrete bridge at that site bears his name. There were many gallantry awards of Maha Vir Chakras and Vir Chakras earned by Gorkha units in Kashmir. They also earned an Ashok Chakra, the highest gallantry award during peace at the time of Police Action in Hyderabad.
In every war fought by the Indian Army after Independence, the Gorkhas have played a gallant role. They have earned several Param Vir Chakras, the highest award for gallantry.
Since 1965, both the countries confer the title of ‘honorary general’ to each other’s army chief. The two armies exchange goodwill visits since 1950, when the then Indian Army chief, General K. M. Cariappa (later Field Marshal), visited Nepal. Since then, 21 Indian Army chiefs visited Nepal, while 16 Nepali Army chiefs have visited their southern neighbour.
The relationship between the Nepali Army and the Indian Army is excellent. A large number of officers and men undergo professional military courses in India. Further, a large number also have close relations (both serving and retired) with their kith and kin who serve or served in the Indian Army.
Traditionally, the Chief of the Army Staff of the Nepali Army visits India at the earliest after assumption of the post, during which he is conferred with the rank of an ‘Honorary General’ of the Indian Army by the President of India.
In 2016, the Nepali Army chief, General Rajendra Chettri, visited India and was conferred with the rank of ‘Honorary General’ in the Indian Army and the Indian Army chief, General Bipin Rawat was conferred this rank in the Nepali Army in 2017.
In 1995, India had in principle accepted the request of the Government of Nepal to assist the Nepali Army in its “Modernisation and Reorganisation” process. During 2004-2007, defence stores were provided to the Nepali Army gratis. Apart from the stores supplied under ‘Modernisation Programme‘, Nepali Army also purchased defence stores on payment.
Due to the recent political changes in Nepal, the quantum of supply of defence stores supplied to the Nepali Army has considerably reduced.
Based on an agreement during the seventh Nepal-India Bilateral Consultative Group on Security, the two countries commenced joint training at platoon level of 30 men each in 2011. The first two joint exercises focused primarily on jungle warfare and counter-insurgency operations.
Troops shared their experiences and exhibited skill sets during joint training at Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairangate in Mizoram, and a similar school at Amlekhganj in Nepal. This joint training was upgraded to a company level in 2012.
Subsequently, Indian and Nepali armies crossed another historic milestone, when a battalion from each of the countries took part in a combined training programme to ensure inter-operability in the disaster-prone region of Uttarakhand.
The Indo-Nepali Joint Military Training Exercise Surya Kiran-V was conducted at Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand from Sep. 23 to Oct. 6, 2013. This was the first of the battalion-level combined training exercises between the two countries, and at least 400 soldiers from each army participated at Pithoragarh, where the focus was on ‘Disaster Response‘ in the geological disaster-prone zones of the Himalayas.
In February 2016, the Ninth Indo-Nepali Combined Battalion Level Military Training Exercise Surya Kiran was conducted at Pithoragarh. During this exercise, the Indian Army and the Nepali Army trained together and shared their experiences of counter-terrorism operations and jungle warfare in mountain terrain.
These Surya Kiran series of exercises are bi-annual events, which are conducted alternatively in Nepal and India. The aim of these combined training exercises is to enhance interoperability between the Indian and the Nepali Army units.
The training also focuses on Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief including medical and aviation support. Both the armies stand to benefit mutually from these shared experiences, and this combined training, mutual interaction and sharing of experiences between both the countries further invigorates the continuing historical military and strategic ties, giving further fillip to the bilateral relations and existing strong bonding between both countries.
(To be concluded in Part 3 this week)
NOTE: Read the Part 1 here: https://defence.capital/2020/11/29/india-and-nepal-armies-brothers-in-arms-part-1/
(The writer is a retired senior Indian Army officer. He is a former Chairman of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group in Nagaland and a former Director General of Assam Rifles. He has previously served as a Strike Corps Commander of the Indian Army and as a Defence Attache in the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu)