The Government playing with fire as Agnipath can potentially turn out rogues in and out of uniform

It had argued that pakoda sellers and cab drivers are also gainfully employed. BJP is now adding insult to injury by offering to employ ex-jawans as security guards at BJP offices

A train torched by youth in Bihar protesting against Agnipath army recruitment scheme (Representative photo)
A train torched by youth in Bihar protesting against Agnipath army recruitment scheme (Representative photo)

Sujata Anandan

The Indian Defence Forces have been steady employers, recruiting every year 60-80 thousand or more young men and women as Jawans and officers. Several generations of the same family have served in the defence forces.

Ever since I can remember, many or even most of my friends, relatives, neighbours and acquaintances were somehow connected to the armed forces with at least one son making it to the army, air force or navy. Among my own relatives, in years of high unemployment there were boys who graduated with engineering and law degrees who then chose the army route to employment.

There were risks, of course. But those risks were associated with patriotism – you died for your country, for a good cause, a good death. But if you survived the conflict zones, you had a good life to the end of your days. And what’s more, a highly respected one where you could hold your best among those with fancy salaries and fancy houses – you too had access to equal facilities, your only liability was your civilian clothes, everything else was taken care of by the government. And by the time you retired, you were part of a scheme that could afford you genteel living and not put you to shame among peers in the private sector.

After the army, it was the Indian Railways which was the biggest recruiter and employer. The Narendra Modi government has messed up that sector as badly as it has everything else and now they are setting the youth on fire by putting together a scheme for their unemployment into the future, once their four year term is over. Such has been the nature of this hare-brained scheme of this government that even retired army men ideologically aligned with the regime are bitterly opposing the same.

Everything about the armed forces is not glorious. There are rogues in the army as well as in the police force and we have seen several examples of human rights violations by soldiers in Kashmir, the north east and elsewhere. It is safe to presume that many of the Agniveers recruited will be so insecure about their future that they would be more than willing to turn rogue, if the opportunity presents itself or at the bidding of people who would have the power to decide if they would be retained after four years or not.

What this scheme is also potentially capable of doing is recruiting an army of potential rogues – young boys turned out without employment are likely to use their skills against the civilian population at the behest of others or for themselves. They will be left with no choice but to turn themselves into a private militia for local criminals, politicians, even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh whose chief Mohan Bhagwat not long ago had proudly claimed he could raise an army to fight at the borders within three days. Well, he wouldn't need to do that any longer as there would be plenty of trained hands on the stray, ripe for the picking. And we all know what the RSS is doing these days.

The army is an honourable profession – there are generations of soldiers at all levels of the hierarchy who know nothing but a life in the army. Saying that these four-year boys could return to civilian life to become security guards is an insult not just to them but to the generations who fought for India on the borders and laid their lives down for the country. Somehow that cavalier statement by a BJP minister reminds me of how a couple of years ago a top official of the Niti Ayog had held up the success of Ola and Uber as a mark of a thriving economy at a time when demonetisation had completely destroyed small and medium industries, people had run out of jobs, unemployment was at an all time high and highly qualified people were turning to menial jobs to eke out a meagre existence.

But now even Ola and Uber are in the doldrums which makes me wonder why this government has a Midas touch in the reverse – everything they touch turns to not gold but ashes, whether it is Kashmir, CAA, the farm laws or even aggregated taxi services. Considering that they seem to have a lot of intellectuals at their disposal, I wonder why they are unable to get anything right, spot the pitfalls and refrain from destroying not just the nation but their own schemes and reputations.

I am also flummoxed by their inability to cut their losses until it is too late. As they say it, Kashmiris do not understand Article 370, Muslims do not understand CAA, farmers do not understand the farm laws and now the youth do not understand Agniveer.

All that I can say is they all understand issues of their own security and wellbeing and none of the schemes of this government have been in the interest of the welfare of the sections they were aimed at. It is not even in the interest of their committed voters because they are also losing jobs as much as the non-supporters, their security is endangered as much as that of others and they are as likely to be destroyed as the rest of the nation if much of this hare-brained manner of policy-making continues in this country.

A couple of years ago, I had been of the opinion that Modi had unleashed a darker side of India that very few were aware existed before his ascension to power. Now I am terrified that he has set India on fire – look at the burning trains and fires spread so easily, both physically and metaphorically – and our nation will soon be burnt down to cinders.

(The writer is Consulting Editor, National herald, Mumbai. Views are personal)

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