“Why is the Nepal Army making the Indian Army Chief its honorary General?”
This was the question asked to me at a teashop in Waling, my hometown, recently. I was fumbling for an answer myself. Not the least because this strange puzzle called Indo-Nepal relations has been at the center-stage of my life so far.
Apart from my own experience with the Indian Army, the question is pertinent also because a lot has happened under the Oli government this year. We have had a dramatic turn of events in our relationship with India.
Waling is the biggest town of Syangja-2 constituency of the federal House of Representatives, represented right now by Padma Aryal, the sitting minister for Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation. The minister was seen presenting framed map of Nepal, as a trophy, to the Who's Who of Nepali politics. This was after the government released a new map that includes the 300 square km land from the northwest end of the country that had gone missing suspiciously some decades ago.
In an interview that I took for a Live Talk Show, on the day the new emblem of Nepal government with the new map was approved by the lower house with a thumping majority, the minister had presented this cartographic development as her government's biggest political achievement. Was she too busy with the map, or had her ministry worked out a strategy to deal with Covid-related poverty and unemployment issues? She did not have a data-based answer, nor a promising plan.
Oli had taken his verbal bellicosity with India to a new low by appearing to mock the Indian national emblem. Although it created a puerile support in Nepal among the masses, for a more mature audience, it came out foolish.
I wasn't surprised by the way politicians behaved. But what General Narawane, the Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, did at this time was disappointing.
My father was a Nepali-origin Gorkha soldier and he took us along for education in various places in India. Dehradun and Darjeeling, places where I did my schooling, each has a sizable chunk of Nepali-speaking people. They are the Indian Gorkhas in military parlance now.
As a 'line boy'– the name given by the British to sons of the soldiers who grew up away from the rustic hardships of the rural countryside of Nepal, I understood the Gorkha Regiment from the inside.
I joined as an officer some years later. Although I had options to join any of the regiments in the Army, or even Navy or Air force, I preferred my father's regiment. I couldn't think of the Indian Army beyond the Gorkhas. After some years, not being able to justify to myself the rationale of serving in a foreign army, I refused to serve. As a Conscientious Objector, I was framed for desertion, and dismissed from service by a Court Martial.
Through this thick and thin, however, I have had very little to complain against the Officers of the Indian Army, my Brothers at Arms once. It's one of the most professional armies in the world, with amazing young leaders leading it from the front. Most importantly, there is a respect for the Gorkhas among the officer cadres that is unparalleled to any other creed of warriors. In the academy, newly commissioned officers compete ferociously to join one of the seven regiments of the Gorkhas.
This respect is hard earned by the Gorkhas, through commitment, loyalty and display of sheer mettle, grit and courage, for over two hundred years, all over the world. A Gorkha soldier is not a war-making machine, but he is the best a military leader can hope for to get the job done, with least of complaints.
What made Gen Manoj Naravane forget this sizable chunk of ferocious warriors who are part of the army that he commands? I couldn't arrive at a logical conclusion. The only plausible reason I could think of was that the Indian Army has now been heavily politicized, and the Generals have started becoming too ambitious for their boots. They are now keen to tow the lines of the politicians.
On the map issue, Gen Naravane had accused Nepal government of acting at behest of 'others', meaning China. In five months, it has come full circle and now he will be conferred the rank of an honorary General of the Nepal Army by the President of Nepal.
Has he, the Indian Army, or the Indian government issued an official apology? If not, why is the Nepal Government making him a General?