New Delhi: Several opposition parties on Thursday stepped up their attack on the government over the Agnipath scheme amid protests against it in several parts of the country — including Bihar, Haryana and Rajasthan — and demanded that it be scrapped. The Janata Dal (United), an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also sought a rethink of the scheme.
The Congress said the scheme carries multiple risks and subverts the longstanding traditions and ethos of the armed forces. “There is no guarantee that the soldiers recruited under the scheme will be better trained and motivated to defend the country,” said former Union minister P Chidambaram.
The first concern is that the Agnipath soldier will be trained for six months, will serve for another 42 months, and after that 75% of the recruits will be discharged, he said.
“It appears to us that the scheme makes a mockery of training; inducts into the defence forces an ill-trained and ill-motivated soldier; and discharges a disappointed and unhappy ex-soldier into the society,” said Chidambaram, who addressed a joint press conference with party leaders Ajay Maken, Sachin Pilot and Pawan Khera.
On Tuesday, the government unveiled Agnipath — calling it a “transformative” scheme — for the recruitment of soldiers in the army, navy and the air force, largely on a four-year short-term contractual basis. Under the scheme, around 46,000 soldiers will be recruited this year between the ages of 17-and-a-half years and 21 years into the three services, the defence ministry said.
The age of recruitment — 17.5-21 years — raises numerous questions as a large part of the youth will be totally excluded from serving in the defence forces, he said, adding that the short six-month period of training and unusually short 42 month period of service may have negative consequences on quality, efficiency and effectiveness.
“We fear that the scheme may turn out to be a case of ‘penny wise and security foolish’,” he said.
The JD(U), which is part of the ruling alliance in Bihar along with the BJP, also sought a rethink on the scheme.
“With regard to the Agnipath scheme, the fear of dissatisfaction, despair and bleak future (unemployment) is clearly visible in the minds of the youth and students of the country, including Bihar. The central government should immediately reconsider the Agniveer scheme because this decision is also related to the defence and security of the country,” JD(U) president Rajiv Ranjan Singh said in a tweet in Hindi.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal urged the Centre to review its decision to limit the tenure of Agniveers to just four years.
“The central government’s new scheme in army recruitment is being opposed everywhere in the country. Young people are very angry. Their demands are justified. The Army is the pride of our country, our youth want to give their whole life to the country, don’t keep their dreams tied in 4 years,” he tweeted.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) demanded that the scheme be scrapped and be taken up in Parliament for discussion. “The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) strongly disapproves the ‘Agnipath’ scheme that does disservice to India’s national interests. Professional armed forces cannot be raised by recruiting ‘soldiers on contract’ for a period of four years. This scheme, to save pension money, severely compromises the quality and efficiency of our professional armed forces,” CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said in a tweet.
The government, meanwhile, issued a clarification, asserting that not only the new model will bring in new capabilities to the armed forces but will also open up avenues for youth in the private sector as well as help them in becoming entrepreneurs with the aid of the financial package.
“The scheme will bring in new dynamism to the armed forces. It will help the forces bring in new capabilities and take advantage of the technical skills and fresh thinking of the youths… It will allow the youths to serve the nation,” the Press Information Bureau (PIB) said in a Facebook post.
(With inputs from Sweta Goswami and agencies)