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Army veterans point out flaws in Agnipath recruitment scheme

Print edition : Jun 15, 2022 T+T-

Army veterans point out flaws in Agnipath recruitment scheme

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with chiefs of the three services during a press conference at the National Media Centre in New Delhi on June 14.

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with chiefs of the three services during a press conference at the National Media Centre in New Delhi on June 14. | Photo Credit: -

Many veterans have chosen to stay silent or speak out against the Other Ranks recruitment strategy.

The Indian military’s new OR (Other Ranks) recruitment strategy, packaged in Hindi as ‘Agniveers’ on a ‘Tour of Duty’ to protect motherland, is being relentlessly promoted by Union Ministers and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) leading lights, but many veterans have either chosen to stay silent or speak out against the ill-thought-out move.

The government announced on June 14 that recruitment to the three Armed Forces will be under the national Agnipath scheme, doing away with regional quotas. But, it stopped short of using the same scheme for officer recruitment, ostensibly because of pressure from Army Headquarters.

As per the scheme, 46,000 youth in the 17.5 years to 21 years age group will get a four-year tenure inclusive of six-months training. At the end of four years, as much as 75 per cent of the Agniveers will be ‘retired’ without pension or gratuity, but with an exit package, which the BJP leaders describe in their incessant social media push as ‘very attractive’.

Veterans react

Among those horrified is the government’s poster boy, retired Major General G.D. Bakshi, who has defended almost every act of the BJP government, sometimes in a language that other Armymen have disapproved of. Bakshi tweeted: “Was flabergasted by the Agniveer scheme. I thought initially it was a trial being done on a pilot basis. This is an across the board change to convert Indian armed forces to a short tenure quasi-conscript force Like the Chinese. For God’s sake PLEASE DONT do it.”

B.N. Sharma, former Chief Instructor, BSF Academy, who has served in almost all the high insurgency areas in the north-east, wrote in Twitter: “To me Agnipath scheme looks like a scheme for any new launched security agency; assuring contract for 4 years & extension of contract for only 25%. How is Agnipath seen so differently by serving & veterans for benefits & disadvantages!” He tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in this tweet.

Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia, paratrooper and former Director General of Military Operations, spoke to the media and also made his opposition to the move clear: “On ToD [Tour of Duty], pray & hope that Agneepath succeeds, for the sake of nation, armed forces and the Agniveers. The government will need to take the ownership and ensure it succeeds as the process is irreversible and high risk.” Later he told an Internet-based television channel: “I am a paratrooper, I take risks, but this is not a risk I would’ve taken; the Fauj ethos may change.”

Lieutenant General Raj Kadyan, former Vice Chief of the Army Staff, had opposed the move when he was in service. In his view, this kind of scheme “should be tried out in a low risk organisation. We are trying it out in the defence forces, where the risk is very high…. I only hope and pray there is no war. If there’s [going to be a] war, you don’t expect a man who is already looking beyond four years to be committed to the extent that he can lay down his life,” he told the same Iinternet-based channel.

Veterans speak up

Army veterans this correspondent spoke with said that the very concept of Tour of Duty has not been tested in India and, hence, it should have been tried out as a small project initially. The other worry is the unabsorbed soldiers after four years in the Army. By then, they would have had a good training in arms, but they would be without a job. The veterans dismissed the idea of organisations coming forward to recruit them. They say that ex-servicemen finding jobs is a problem that has existed for a long time. These newly retired soldiers will be added to that queue. There are also questions over how ready an OR will be after just six months of training.

Not many are fooled by the government’s logic that the move is aimed at lowering the average age of the soldier. Anil Talwar, a former Army officer, tweeted: “As a colleague has said… ‘Agnipath is the exchequer’s solution. They have kicked the can down the road to the regiments and units. However, I’m confident that our regimental system will find our own solutions to problems of motivation that this ‘solution’ will ‘create’.” Going by one newspaper report, which pegged the expenditure on each soldier at Rs.11.5 crore, it appears that savings from the scheme is the primary reason why the government is pushing for Agnipath.

Given the nature of the pushback and going by past experience, the BJP government can do one of two things: one, give the proposal a quiet burial, or ,two, get former and current military officers favourably disposed towards the regime to start a publicity war. Going by the manner in which the government is pushing this scheme, it appears that option number two is in play already.