Lacks clarity & dialogue

Agnipath Scheme

By Dusmanta Kumar

As anti-Agnipath fury rises in the country, army veterans, observers and spokespersons on both sides, government as well as Opposition, are engaged in a heated debate on the merits of the recruitment scheme. As usual, the opinion is divided, rather polarised between the government and its supporters in the media and the intellectual community, and its opponents. The resistance to the scheme had issued violent forms in many states resulting in destruction of public property.

As we read and listened to both sides – protagonists and the critics, arguments seem to be sound. The government side claims that the recruitment procedure is good for the country as it will generate jobs for many while injecting fresh and young blood to the army. Many, on the other hand, raise questions about the sagacity of the scheme.

What is however clear is, that the government suffers from avoidable deficit of dialogue with the stakeholders in particular and the people in general. Dialogue is an essential part of a functioning and vibrant democracy. There are occasions where government may be doing right things.But are they doing it the right way?

One remembers the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitting, in the aftermath of Iraq war, that he may have got it wrong. And that his and his colleagues’ constant communication with the people made him realise it. In this case, either the government convinces the youth and students on benefits of the Agnipath scheme, assuages their anxieties, or rolls back the scheme, some minor changes notwithstanding.

Absence of communication has been evident in other reforms and schemes initiated by the government, the note ban, the standardisation of GST and farm laws etc. These reforms conceived and carried out by the government were marked by absence of dialogues, causing avoidable conflict between people and the government. The Agnipath scheme falls into a similar pattern.

That said; let us look at the arguments about the scheme. What is the government’s stand point? And how do the government’s supporters articulate the merits of the scheme? They say the government has a two-fold objective in the Agnipath scheme, recruitment of soldiers, sailors and airmen in three armed forces of the country. One is to generate employment for a vast number of youths.

Second is to create ‘a leaner and younger’ force. Recruits known as Agniveers in the age group of 17.5 years to 23 (two years raised after the protest) will serve four years including a six-month training period. At the end of this time, 75 per cent of them will be relieved of service with an assured amount of income (about 21 lakh) and with other facilities like bank loan if they wish to go on an entrepreneurship route. They will have preference in government jobs too.

Twenty five per cent will be retained for another 15 years. This scheme, in the line of Short Service Recruitment (SSR) will bring down the average age of soldiers from 32 (current) to 26 years (proposed), lending an edge to battle efficiency. The argument is, this change became imperative after the Kargil war in 1999 and the Galwan fight two years ago.

Also, the idea is to catch the youths for a disciplined life and service to the nation, before they possibly become wayward. The 75 per cent released after four years would be prize possessions for any organistion as they would have been rigorously trained, infused with nationalism, discipline and order etc.

For instance, veterans in disaster mitigation sector maintain that, the Agnipath scheme could enhance the human resource base for disaster management, which is a frequent exercise in many parts of the country. Those belonging to 75 per cent could find themselves in SDMAs (State Disaster Mitigation Authorities), DDMAs, (District) and in the NGOs working for DRR – Disaster Risk Reduction. They suggest that the guidelines for recruitment to NDRF – National Disaster Relief Force, and SDRF (State) should be favourable to young retirees from the armed forces. Actually, it supplements the practice as NDRF recruitment is already done through CAPF – Central Armed Police Force, which is mandated for 10 per cent intake from Agniveers.

Therefore, there is no room for suspicion on the viability of the scheme. The defence environment is undergoing fast and radical changes. Hence, India should also have a ‘leaner and younger’ armed force with state-of-the-art weaponry. Agnipath scheme heralds that transformation of the Indian armed force.

The critics point out that the proposed scheme will affect the morale of the soldiers already in service and of those to be recruited.It will sap the spirit and commitment of the armed forces. Several defence veterans ask whether our forces with 32 average ages have failed us in any war. It is an insult to our soldiers who are serving the country dutifully and passionately at present.

The idea of SSR has perhaps emanated from the American practice called tourist-as-soldiers, funnily called Tour of Duty, a four-year contract. It is seriously contended that American forces with short service contract have not won any war as they lack the long term commitment. The American military power is defined more by its superior weaponry than by men.

A short service of four years in the army will exert a lot of psychological pressure on the recruitees. Hunted by anxiety of uncertainty in their career they will lack the energy and drive despite being young. So, blindly following the footsteps of Americans and such practice in other countries may create a mercenary army, compromising our national security.

Talking to army veterans one comes across a workable option that alleviates the anxiety and risks faced by Agniveers. That is the government should use Agnipath as a ‘base source’ for recruitment to all forces, police, para-military and all three wings of the armed forces. It amounts to semi-conscription. So be it. The recruitment base will be stronger and the job uncertainty will perish. The percentage of release after four years should be reduced to 10 per cent, as everyone may not make it to further jobs. This 10 per cent will find jobs in the areas mentioned above.

Thus, the country will have a value-driven, trained and disciplined youth force working in various sectors, primarily, police and army. This will reduce violence, disruption of public order, attack on public properties, corruption, and wrong-doing etc in public life. Options are there. Government of India needs to capture them with wider consultation and extensive dialogue while introducing such radical reforms, especially in the army which is a national icon, providing us security. On the other hand, should the government act on the perceived invincibility based on its electoral strength and a disarrayed Opposition?  — INFA