By Ashish Biswas
KOLKATA: Nepali youths should not join the British or Indian armies as fighting Gurkha soldiers anymore, according to the Maoists, who are now a part of the government in the Himalayan kingdom. Instead, they should get opportunities to fulfill their ambitions at home.
Press reports from Kathmandu suggest that the Young Communist League, a Maoist organisation, has publicly made this demand, which may send shock waves within the British and Indian armies, after a three-day policy meeting. It reinforces the view of observers who had forecast major changes in the country’s governance with the Maoists now having a major say in decision-making.
It may be recalled that the Maoists had earlier taken a hard-line on their country’s close links with India in the past. In particular they strongly criticised the practice of Indian business interests operating in Nepal. Their shops and establishments had also been attacked on occasions.
At the same time, Nepal Maoists have studied the land reforms in West Bengal closely and established relations with the left parties, especially the CPI(M) in India, with help from party politburo member Sitaram Yechury.
Kathmandu reports said there were at least 40,000 Nepali youths serving in the Indian army and another 3400 in the British army, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Maoist view of the situation in these countries and the role of the Western countries is known to be left-wing, critical.
However, thousands of families in Nepal are directly dependant on the salaries and pension earned by the Gurkha soldiers, many of whom might have remained unemployed within the primarily agricultural economy of their country otherwise. The competition to get into the Gurkha units is keen, with some 15,000 youths trying to secure 230 places in 2006, according to reports. With the British, the association of the Gurkhas goes back to 1817.
However, while the discipline and fighting spirit of the Gurkhas as well known, they have been victims of pay and other discrimination within the British army, which extended to their pension benefits as well, in contrast to the facilities enjoyed by white British soldiers. This has led to some agitations in recent times. No such complaints have been heard about India.
It remains to be seen whether the demand of the Maoists puts them on a collision course with the traditional sentiments of a large segment of the local population, totally dependant on their boys working abroad. Many soldiers on retirement are joining the growing private security industry in India and elsewhere. The proposal may therefore lead to a deep divide within the Nepalese population, posing a problem for the government.
- IPA (June 13, 2007)