Lakh of the youths in the country are feeling fudged. Violent protests took place against the recently announced Agnipath scheme in the army recruitment for personnel below officer rank (PBOR). Under the new Agnipath scheme, the government has announced recruiting youths for the army, to be called Agniveers. Under this scheme, after qualifying, they will not have a secured tenure of service till retirement as earlier but a contractual 4-year tenure. After the completion of four years term, one-fourth of them will be absorbed as permanent recruits on the basis of, while the rest have to reenter the job market, looking for another employment opportunity. Agniveer scheme, at best, remains a short-term, contractual employment service devoid of social security and pension services bringing gloomy future prospects to the youths of the country even when it is promoted as a scheme which will be important in nation-building in the long run. Different political parties and organisations have been protesting against the controversial recruitment scheme. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has announced to organise Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan convention against the Agnipath Scheme.
The contextual imbibing of Neoliberal Hindutva in the Agnipath project:
Since the 2014 general election which gave an overwhelming victory to the right-wing BJP, the economic policies were subject to unprecedented structural changes. In the economic realm, India witnessed unopposed and assiduous pursuance of neoliberal economic policies. This allowed big capital to usher incessant profit itself from the peaceful neoliberal turn of the Indian economy. Resultingly, there’s been a decrease in average income of the poor, a stark rise in inequality and an increase in the wealth of the top few (details in the latest Oxfam report).
In the social realm, neoliberalism came hand in hand with the rise of Hindutva politics, a violent communal right-wing politics based on the supremacist ethnic appeal of Hindu driven by hatred towards religious minorities, particularly Muslims. The rise of Hindutva politics prepared a majoritarian bloc of Hindus rallying behind the BJP, helping it garner continuous electoral success. This advent of neoliberalism complemented by Hindutva politics brought a fundamental change in the political culture of India. The holy alliance of Neoliberalism with Hindutva, called Neoliberal Hindutva provided a basis for the introduction of neoliberal policies under the garb of Hindutva. It is imperative to look at the Agnipath Scheme in the larger context of Neoliberal Hindutva project of BJP.
Contractual employment in Neoliberal Hindutva:
The Agniveer scheme makes sense if looked at the backdrop of the ascendance of Neoliberal Hindutva. The BJP regime has introduced a range of structural changes in the pursuit of neoliberal interest. Rampant privatisation, disinvestment and seeling off of PSUs have been the modus operandi of neoliberal Hindutva, providing exorbitant profit to the private capital. Camouflaged under Hindutva and jargonised with the rhetoric of National development, neoliberal Hindutva has led to a takeover of the public sector by private capital. Contractual employment has emerged as the go-to form of recruitment in public sectors. This change in the nature of employment from permanent to non-permanent, short-tenured and contractual employment is induced by neoliberal Hindutva.
Consider the dataset of CMIE which shows that India had around 53 million people unemployed as of December 2021. Its latest report mentions the unemployment rate rising to a whopping 7.8% in April 2022. A major chunk of these unemployed is educated youth whose interest is directly in conflict with contractual employment. As per the PLFS survey report, the rate of joblessness amongst youth in the country rose to 26% in the first quarter. All these numbers provide a scary picture of the state of unemployment in the economy. At this crucial juncture, the BJP regime is introducing contractual employment in the Army. It shows the hegemony neoliberal capitalism enjoys in Hindutva politics. Also noteworthy is how industrialists and commerce associations have welcomed the Agnipath scheme. There remains an unmatchable congruence of interest between private capital and national security over a policy change introduced in defence. This is possible only in the Neoliberal Hindutva regime.
Defence experts have already raised questions about the Agniparth scheme for its implementation will lead to compromises with national security. On the other hand, the military-trained youths under the misery of unemployment will not at all be healthy for society. This scheme can be a disaster at the social level as it will militarise society and make it more violent. The economic insecurity and social anxiety produced by the clubbing of Neoliberal Hindutva may find violent manifestation.
Nationalism has always been a scheme for BJP:
BJP regime has been justifying the Agnipath scheme as a much-required and groundbreaking policy change in the interest of National security. Delegitimising the protests, the govt has even announced the dates of Agnipath recruitment. The government is in no mood to take back this controversial scheme. In a classic authoritarian fashion, Agnipath was brought without any prior collective deliberation and consultation. BJP is also trying to reach out to the opposition on the Agnipath scheme.
What is notable to understand is that for BJP, Nationalism has always been just a scheme. BJP has used the rhetoric of nationalism and national security to capture state power and further its ideological project. Nationalism, as a scheme has been overwhelmingly used by BJP to generate legitimacy for its ethno-nationalist Hindutva politics and rampant neoliberal policy introduction. By downgrading and delegitimising the concerns around national security in this scheme, BJP proves its loyalty to neoliberal Hindutva, staking the security issue and showcasing the dubious nature of its Nationalism.
Why is BJP undermining the security issue which was its reason to come to power? The reason is the hegemony Hindutva nationalism enjoys in the current political context of the country. Hindutva over the time has become hegemonic in the political culture and BJP currently, is facing no consequential electoral impact of these policies. This has emboldened BJP to extend the impetus of neoliberal Hindutva even in the security establishments. In the recently held Lok Sabha bypolls, BJP registered win in the places like Azamgarh and Rampur which are counted as Samajwadi Party bastions. These places also witnessed violent protests against the Agnipath scheme. Since the introduction of such schemes hasnt yet transformed the generated anxiety into electoral outcome, it allows BJP to justify such schemes through its electoral success. Nation security has remained a trope for BJP to mobilise mass behind it and give legitimacy to its policies.
Himanshu Shukla is a postgraduate in political science and works as a researcher.