An article written by Upendra Mani Pradhan on April 10th, 2008. (Being republished here. It is as relevent today as it was then.)
Field Marshal Sam FJH Manekshaw preferred calling himself Sam ‘Bahadur’ Manekshaw as a mark of respect and reverence towards the bravest of the brave Gorkhals , who served the nation along with him; he himself belonged to 1/8 Gorkha Rifles. His reverence towards the Gorkhas can be understood in one of his famous quotes… “Everyone is afraid of something… I am afraid of two women in my life, my mother and the Prime Minister (then Indira Gandhi)… if any one says he is not afraid of anything, either he is lying or he is a Gorkha”.
“The bravest of the braves”…. “India’s finest”…. “The ultimate soldier”… various epithet have been used by people who have been associated with these brave hearts, people who understand what it means to risk your life for your country every living moment of your life… Army General’s, Defence analysts, Military top-brass, all swear by the Gorkhala soldiers and treat them with utmost respect and veneration.
This respect and reverence is reflected in the contribution these brave soldiers have in fortressing the defence of our country. The Gorkha Regiments, have, as of today won 6 Theater Honors, 18 Battle Honors, 10 Ashok Chakras, 3 Param Vir Chakras, 28 Maha Vir Chakras, 68 Vir Chakras and numerous other honors and citations, podt independence. The Gorkhas have always been the most disciplined soldiers, and they have outperformed every enemy our country has had to face. Be it in India or abroad, the Gorkha soldiers have brought back fame and recognition to the country, besides being the first line of defence against inimical forces of Pakistan and China.
However, from time to time we have heard people referring to the same Gorkhas as being foreigners, and even worst mercenaries, the worst possible slur on these brave hearts.
I have a question for these cynics, what or who is an Indian in your definition? Because, India as we know today is actually a British creation and the name itself is the best proof of that fact, is it not? Prior to the British (or the East India Company) consolidating its power in the geographical region we today refer to as India, the whole region was divided into small princely states. The Maratha’s ruled the west, Dravidians the south, the Mughals North and Central and the east was ruled by the Koch. The north-east, however, was mostly ruled by tribal clans and tribal chiefs. It was the British who won against all forces and consolidated and ruled this geographical diaspora and for administrative ease called it India. So who is a real Indian? The answer is no body, and who is not a real Indian, the answer once again is no body.
The people, who cry hoarse calling the Gorkhas foreigners, do so, because of their lack of knowledge regarding the Gorkhas. People of ethnically Nepali background who are but Indian citizen, are referred to as Gorkhas (in Indian context that is). This is just to distinguish ethnically Nepali speaking Indian population from people of Nepal who prefer being called Nepali. It is illogical and inapt to call the Gorkhas foreigners, just because we have a common heritage and roots with Nepal and we speak Nepali (which incidentally is one of the officially recognized languages of India).
My second question to these cynics is, are the Gorkha soldiers fighting for India, mercenaries? The obvious answer is NO. Once the British took control of the rest of India, they tried to capture Nepal too, but the Nepali forces were trained mountain people and fierce warriors. So much was the valor of these soldiers that it won the respect of their enemy and the British recruited them into their army, in the same way as they recruited the Afghans, the Sikhs, the Dogras and even the Marathas. After the British left, the new Government of India recognizing the utility of these fighting men, decided to keep the Gorkha soldiers and formed an entire regiment, now known as The Gorkha Regiment.
Battalions of the 11 Gorkha Rifles have participated in practically all operations undertaken by the Indian Army since Independence, most notable and relevant here being the 1947-48 Indo-Pak War and Hyderabad (1948). Hyderabad is once again a reminder to the cynics that India would not have been India as we know it today, had it not been for the iron will of Sardar Ballabh Bhai Patel and the iron fist of the same Gorkha soldiers that you refer to as mercenaries.
Since, then a lot of water has flow down Ganga and Teesta, the only thing unchanged is the patriotism and dedication of these brave hearts. More often than not, cynics point out the role of Gorkha troops in the now infamous Jalianwala Bag Massacre. What they fail to see is that our government (of independent India) had no qualms in using the same Gorkhas to quell the same Sikhs as the British did in the past. Gorkha regiment was heavily involved in quelling the secessionist movement for independent Punjab. Further, the government has no qualms on using the Gorkha forces in all other parts of the nation to douse the secessionist movements, be it Nagaland, Manipur or Tripura.
Most of the Gorkha soldiers recruited into Indian army today come from the hills states of the country, Darjeeling being one of them which has a solder in every house. In Darjeeling, it is a matter of pride and honor to have at least one member of the family to be in the army. My family has 3 retired soldiers and one about to join the army, is it for economic reasons? Perhaps, but if it was just economics, most of us would have probably flown outside the country in search of greener pastures.
There is something called patriotism and sometimes I wonder, if it’s a curse rather than a blessing to be born a patriot. My friend Sunil Rai, was killed in action in Kashmir and left his young wife and child behind, I still recall his elder brother proudly accepting the Indian tri-color from the other soldiers and saying “wish I had more brothers for my country…” Do you think it’s just for money that we join the army? I think not.
One of the most brazen aspects of this whole issue is that people, who do not have any feeling for India, are the ones who call these brave soldiers’ mercenaries and us foreigners
April 9th, 2008: It was perhaps the darkest day in the history of India (for me it was), when the inept West Bengal police under CPM govt of West Benal, fell upon the retired brave hearts with vengeance. The West Bengal police, guided by an incompetent government at the state and a conniving minister at Siliguri, violently reined blows on ex-soldiers who were peacefully rallying for the legitimate demand of Gorkhaland.
It was a slap from West Bengal police, in the face of Indian army… it was a slap in the face of Field Marshal Sam Manekhsaw… a slap in the face of Sardar Patel… a slap in the face of the Defence Minister and numerous other people who love and respect the brave soldiers.
Nothing can be worse for a solder and the morale of the army than be slapped in the face by the most inept police force in the entire country. A force which, helplessly watched (and perhaps with relish) the killing of innocent people in Nandigram by CPI (M) goons… A force which was charged for murdering Rijwanur Rahaman… a force which is more of a political instrument for the CPI (M) than an administrative body.
Shame on you!! West Bengal police and shame on all of us, who have been quite on this issue. Shame on the so called moral polices, who came out in hoards in support of people in Nandigram but refuse to budge now, just because we are not like you? Shame on the national media which happily shows for hours on end what color lipstick Aishwarya Rai wore, than showing the old soldiers beaten to death.
Shame on the politicians who have conveniently ignored, and refused to speak against this heinous act. Shame on the Defence Minister, for you kept a blind eye while your office and post was slapped and kicked in the streets of Siliguri. Shame on you!! the incompetent DM of Darjeeling, who has proved to be nothing but a political stooge. Shame on you!! The SP of Darjeeling, whose thirst for blood seems to be still unquenched, after killing numerous innocent civilians in Nandigram, where he was the ASP?
Last but not the least, Shame on India…. An Ungrateful Nation!
Finally, I leave you with immortal lines as stated by J. M. Stracznski “No dictator, no invader – can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom… Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand”.
Hope! I made some sense.