Modi govt tinkering with national security by steamrolling ahead with Agnipath scheme despite valid objections

Agnipath scheme amounts to experimenting with the security of the nation and destroying existing regular employment opportunities for the youth, both of which could have disastrous consequences

Indian Army troops (PTI/File photo)
Indian Army troops (PTI/File photo)

Narender Hooda

Why is it so difficult for the BJP-led government at the Centre to first discuss a new policy in Parliament, or form a parliamentary committee to vet it, or seek comments from colleagues from other parties before it is put to action, only for it to backfire?

This has happened over and over again during the last eight years the Modi govt has been at the helm. Demonetisation was a total fiasco. The controversial farm laws had to be rolled back after a long agitation by farmers and loss of lives. It appears that the government has not learnt a lesson from such drubbings due to its ‘first act and then think’ attitude.

The reason for this political arrogance seems to be that despite such disastrous policy decisions, the electoral fortunes of the BJP were not significantly dented in subsequent polls. The electorate has evidently given the government of the day the benefit of doubt.

But while demonetisation and the farm laws (now rescinded) did not directly affect the security and sovereignty of the nation, the same cannot be said of the so-called Agnipath Scheme, which is touted to be a step toward an ‘Atamanirbhar and Sashakt Bharat’ with a younger military.

The government claims that the scheme will improve battle preparedness of the country, but senior veterans and experts have raised serious objections to it.

The scheme in question has not even been discussed with commanders who stand shoulder to shoulder with infantry on the borders. Will Agniveers, with a short stint – one is tempted to call them ‘guest soldiers’ – bearing distinctive dress and insignia, be able to mingle with career soldiers on the borders in the fight against the enemy? What will be the level of morale, motivation, and unit cohesion of Agniveers given the transient nature of the assignment? These are the questions best debated with the unit heads at the borders, which the govt. has singularly failed to do.

The Agniveer scheme, as the government calls it, cannot be viewed from the lens of employment generation. The very security of the nation is at stake.

A decorated former Army officer, Lieutenant General D S Hooda (Retd.) noted during an interview. “.. It takes a lot of time – in my experience, at least 4-5 years for people to be trusted to work on the systems in their own individual capacity. For 4-5 years you are actually under the tutelage of a senior person. No airmen, no air warrior signs for history in the clearance home for an aircraft going for fight. It is similar for riders, anti-aircraft missile systems, and so on. I'm sure a similar thing goes for the Naval systems too. So, at the right time of four years when they are ready to be exploited for their full potential you are asking 75% of the people to go. And then you get a new lot coming in and you have to start from scratch.”

One of the objectives behind the Agnipath scheme, which the government has not publicly stated – for obvious reasons – is to cut the salary and pension cost of defence personnel. The scheme has simply been given a patriotic cover. Beneath this veneer is a crude attempt to save money at the cost of the security of the nation.

But the youth of this country are not so naïve. They supported Mr Modi in 2014 in the hope of better employment opportunities being generated, but his promise of two crore new jobs every year later turned out to be jumlas. And they can see through this new-fangled scheme.

A very large section of the youth of this country is completely disillusioned with the ruling dispensation and launched an agitation against this scheme, being aware that regular jobs in the armed forces were being substituted with a short-time assignment, which will simply jettison them back after a few years and force them to rejoin the unemployed masses. Instead of opening new avenues of employment, even existing channels of appointment in the government are being destroyed.

The ever-weakening economy and burgeoning unemployment have added fuel to the fire.

But instead of listening to the sane and concerned voices of domain experts, the Modi govt is in a tearing hurry to begin the recruitment process under the scheme, revealing its apathy for people’s welfare. Repeated declarations that the scheme shall not be rolled back speak volumes of the highhandedness of the government.

The government is completely misadvised in haranguing the youth and even threatening to snatch away even this temporary employment if they are found agitating against the scheme.

When the youth of the country take to the streets for a just cause, such an agitation cannot be throttled by force. The government will be well advised to find a middle path if it is adamant about not reviewing the whole scheme.

What it could do is implement this scheme at a much smaller scale to see its efficacy for the intended purpose. Secondly, the tenure of the Agniveers should be at least 10 years instead of 5. Thirdly, the regular recruitment in all the three wings of the armed forces should go on as usual.

The BJP must realise that all policies and decisions cannot be seen from the lens of electoral benefits. Going ahead with the Agnipath scheme in its present form amounts to tinkering with the security of the nation and destroying existing regular employment opportunities for the youth, both of which could have disastrous consequences.

(The writer is a Senior Advocate practicing in the Supreme Court of India. Views are personal)

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