The answer to that is simple: racism, ingrained into the way British governments treat people.
Allow me to tell you the story:
Once upon a time (1814), the British East India Company, then in control of India, declared war on neighbouring Nepal because of Gurkha incursions that had taken place.
The war was extremely civilised, with both sides controlling looting and respecting non-combatants.
The war ended in 1816 and both sides decided to build a friendship in which 10 Gurkha regiments were recruited into the East India Company’s Army.
After the partition of India in 1947, a tripartite treaty between Nepal, India and the UK meant four Gurkha regiments were transferred to the British Army.
Here’s the problem, though: the terms on which the Gurkhas joined the British Army were not the same as those for any UK-born soldier.
Those who retired before 1997, like Mr Gurung, currently receive a fraction of the pension the rest of the British Army receive because the Gurkha Pension Scheme (GPS) was based on Indian Army rates.
Not New Labour government of Tony Blair tried to paper over this racist injustice in 2007, when it eliminated the differences between Gurkhas’ terms and conditions of service and those of their British counterparts.
The change was backdated to July 1, 1997, because that was the date when the UK became the home base for the Brigade of Gurkhas (it had previously been based in Hong Kong, which itself transferred to Chinese rule on that date) and changes in immigration rules meant retiring Gurkhas may settle in the UK after discharge.
The difference between pension rates pre- and post-1997 has long been a subject for grievance because it seems to be impossible to live comfortably on pre-1997 rates, either in the UK or in Nepal. Former Gurkhas who had served the UK as some of our most effective service personnel were therefore consigned to lives of poverty and misery because they weren’t British.
That is why Dhan Gurung, Pushpa Rana Ghale and Gyanraj Rai went on hunger strike on August 7.
Challenged to meet the hunger strikers and discuss their case, current UK prime minister Boris Johnson did what he always does when offer the chance to be a statesman: he ran away.
Previously, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had said he would be happy to meet protesters, but argued no government “of any colour” had ever made retrospective changes to pensions of the kind they were demanding.
We can see from the actions of the Blair government in 2007 that this was a lie of the kind for which the Boris Johnson government is now justifiably infamous.
It seems the politicians’ position only softened when it seemed likely that one of the hunger strikers may suffer serious harm to their health on the prime minister’s doorstep.
Dhan Gurung was hospitalised after his heartbeat slowed, after refusing food for 12 days. It was initially believed that the diabetic veteran was having a heart attack.
He returned to the protest yesterday but shortly afterwards the government announced that it will hold talks with the group, and with the Nepalese government, and the hunger strike has now ended.
Further information on the situation is available in this House of Commons Library briefing.
I think it is important also to note that a petition, calling for Gurkhas to have equal pensions as other British veterans of the same rank and service, has reached the 100,000 signature threshold for a debate in Parliament.
How would any such debate run, if one or more of the protesters had suffered significant harm to their health because they had to go on hunger strike even to have their demands noticed?
And the discussion with Nepal seems dishonest, too. The four Gurkha regiments suffering the pension prejudice at the heart of the protest have been employees of the British Army since 1947; their pay and conditions are really nobody else’s business.
Whatever happens, this is another opportunity for Boris Johnson to drape himself in disgrace. He has already fled from dealing with this matter and his Defence Secretary has lied about it.
Who can doubt that they’ll concoct an excuse to short-change – once again – some of the bravest soldiers the UK was ever lucky enough to have?