New Delhi, Nov 9 "If anyone tells you he is never afraid, he is a liar or he is a Gurkha", Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw had once said. Years later, as the 9 Gorkha Rifles (9 GR), one of the oldest regiments of the Indian Army, celebrates its bicentenary, the words ring true with over 32,000 Nepalese Gorkhas serving in the Indian Army, a display of the deep bonds of friendship between India and Nepal.
As the 9 GR began its three-day bicentenary celebrations on Thursday, the uniqueness of this bond between India and Nepal will be seen at its regimental centre in Varanasi, where hundreds of veterans and serving soldiers have gathered, with the army chief, General Bipin Rawat, being the chief guest.
Contrary to popular belief that it was the British who first raised the Gorkha or Gurkha battalions, the first was raised by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who was impressed by their bravery and valour. In Nepal, soldiers serving with the Indian Army are still called "Lahoreys" one who serves in Lahore, which was the Maharaja Ranjit Singh's capital.
At present, apart from the large number of serving Gorkha soldiers, there are around 90,000 retired soldiers of the Indian Army in Nepal.
According to Brigadier S.P. Sinha (retired), the 9 GR descended from the Fatehgarh levy in 1817, which was raised by Maj G.S. Fagan. At the time of Independence in 1947, the Gorkhas were given the option of joining either the Indian or British Army. According to Brigadier Sinha, the British expected that a majority of Gorkhas would chose the Crown -- but the reverse happened.
"The result of the referendum came as big surprise to the British officers," said Sinha.
Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, the Supreme Commander of all British forces in India and Pakistan post independence until late 1948, analysed it thus: "The pre-conceived idea held generally by British officers of Gurkha Regiments that there could be no question that the Gurkha soldier would opt to serve Britain rather than India, has been completely upset by the referendum to ascertain the wishes of the Gurkha soldiers."
Thus, the Indian Army took under its wings 1 GR, 3 GR, 4 GR, 5 GR, 8 GR and 9 GR while 11 GR, into which General Rawat was commissioned, was raised after Independence. Each regiment comprises five or six battalions.
Personnel of the 9 GR have been awarded three Victoria Crosses, five Mahavir Chakras and 17 Vir Chakras. Each battalion of the regiment has also been awarded the Chief of Army Staff Citation and one or more Army Commander's Citation for exceptional services rendered, a unique distinction quite unparalleled in the Indian Army.
More than 300 soldiers of the regiment have laid down their lives post-Independence in various wars and counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.
As a prelude to the celebrations, a motorcycle rally was flagged off by the army chief in January, which arrived in Pokhra, Nepal on February 4, when a massive rally, participated in by around 3,500 ex-servicemen, was held to celebrate the bicentenary. The event was also attended by the Nepalese army chief, General Rajendra Chhetri and the Indian DGMO, Lt. Gen. A.K. Bhatt, who is also the Colonel of the 9 GR.