Nepal Table of Contents
The British ended their two-century rule over the subcontinent after World War II and agreed to an independent India, shorn of its Muslim-majority areas that had formed the new nation of Pakistan. Unlike most territories belonging to native princes, which were soon absorbed into the British successor states of India and Pakistan, Nepal and its feudal dynasty survived the British withdrawal intact. Still an independent entity, Nepal thus became a small South Asian state wedged between Asia's greatest land powers, India and China. Nepal nevertheless continued to provide a fertile recruiting ground for the British and Indian armies.
Under a tripartite agreement signed in 1947 by Nepal, India, and Britain, the Gurkha brigade was divided between British and Indian forces. Four regiments remained in the British service, and six passed to the new Indian Army, which recruited an additional regiment for a total of seven. Gurkha units in both military establishments played an important role throughout the postcolonial period. Gurkhas formed the backbone of the British counterinsurgency effort in Malaya that, by 1960, had crushed the communist offensive on the peninsula. Other Gurkha units fought in the defense of North Borneo against Indonesian-sponsored guerrillas in the early 1960s and also in the 1982 British campaign against Argentine forces in the Falkland Islands (called Islas Malvinas by Argentina). Throughout this period, Gurkha units were the mainstay of the British garrison in Hong Kong, which was scheduled to revert to China in 1997.
Gurkhas in the service of India have also played an important and colorful role in national defense, despite the early complaints of Indian nationalists that Nepalese soldiers were acting as British mercenaries or tools of the Ranas. According to Leo E. Rose, a noted historian of the period, "However critical the [Indian] Congress party may have been about the use of the Gurkhas by the British, their value was quickly recognized." The Rana regime sought to counter Indian criticism by specifying that Gurkhas in the Indian Army could not be used against Nepal, other Gurkha units, Hindus, or "unarmed mobs." No restrictions were imposed, however, on their use against Muslim mobs or against external enemies, including Pakistan and China.
Gurkhas, some of whom came from Nepalese families resident in the Indian Tarai, served with distinction in India's three wars with Pakistan (1947-48, 1965, and 1971). Many Indian Gurkhas also were stationed in the former North-East Frontier Agency (Arunachal Pradesh) when Chinese forces overran beleaguered Indian outposts along the disputed Sino-Indian frontier in 1962. A battalion served with distinction in the Congo (now Zaire) in the 1960s as part of the Indian Army contingent in the United Nations Operations in the Congo. Several battalions served with the Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990.
After World War II, the end of the British Raj (1858-1947), and the anti-Rana revolt of 1950-51, Nepal struggled to find its identity in a vastly changed Indian subcontinent. By 1950 all important army posts were held by members of the Rana ruling family. Many of the battalions had just returned from war duties in India and Burma; the battaloins included some soldiers who had defected from British units and fought with the Japanese as part of the Indian National Army. The returning soldiers found that pay, rations, equipment, housing, and general conditions of service in Nepal contrasted unfavorably with what they had known under the British. Many of the general officers had never served in the lower ranks. The bulk of the army was stationed in the Kathmandu Valley, where the Rana government, aware of growing opposition, could keep potentially disloyal officers under surveillance. As remained true in 1991, British recruiters attracted the best candidates for military service because of improved prospects for advancement and higher pay. Those unable to land positions in the Brigade of Gurkhas usually opted to serve in the Indian Army, leaving the Royal Nepal Army with the remaining large pool of recruits from which to choose.
Many World War II veterans were discharged at the end of their enlistments. Many of the officers who remained in service were unqualified to give proper training to the young replacements, and poor pay added to mounting discontent. By the time the revolt began in 1950, many soldiers were predisposed to defect to the anti-Rana forces (see The Return of the King , ch. 1). Most soldiers, however, remained loyal or, at a minimum, did not lend active support to political forces attempting to overthrow the Ranas. The officer corps, however, remained staunchly loyal to the king throughout the crisis. The organization leading the revolt, the Nepali Congress Party, developed a distrust of the army leadership that reportedly still persisted in some quarters in 1991. At the same time, memories of India's moral and limited matériel support for the 1950 uprising led some sections of the military to question the national loyalties of the Nepali Congress Party.
Data as of September 1991
Nepal Table of Contents