What is stopping the Government from Scrapping the Agnipath Scheme?

agnipath agniveer

The Shekhavati region in Rajasthan is called ‘Jatland’ in informal discussion.

A  characteristic feature of this area which comprises of Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Churu and Nagore is that it sends largest number of recruits to Indian army. Apart from other issues the issue of Agniveer is also a hot topic in this region and there are reports that BJP is finding itself difficult to handle people’s anger over it and will face reverses in the coming elections . (1)


‘Agnipath’ Still Simmers ..

‘The anger and anxieties over ‘Agnipath’ scheme – have not died down.

Gone is the period of open protests by youth and students and other ordinary people which rocked when the scheme was hastily announced (June 2022).

It does not mean that the youth are now happy about this scheme.

In an ambience of rising unemployment how is it possible to be happy about the fact that “[d]ue to the implementation of the Agniveer scheme, around 1.5 lakh candidates selected for the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy between 2019 and 2022 were allegedly denied joining.( 2)and all future possibilities of such an employment being closed forever.

Anyone who is keen to know how Agnipath has literally ‘destroyed’ thousands of jobs in military can take a tour of Kuchman City in Nagour ( Rajasthan) once a hub of more than 200 defence coaching academies preparing students from Rajasthan, Haryana and neighbouring parts of Western UP for entrance exams in Military

Today, Kuchman city is a ‘deserted’ town, the number of functional coaching academies is less than 15-20 from the peak of 200 – with even lesser candidates preparing there. (3)

Like all other life and death issues the mainstream media has largely forgotten about it,but there are occasions when the truth comes out rather starkly in stray reports here and there. The report quoted in the beginning could be said to be an eyeopener.  (4)

It talked about the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan – where Nagaur is situated – which has emerged as THE REGION where BJP lost significant number of seats during the last assembly elections, ( December 2024) The report further tells that the same trend will continue during parliamentary elections also and BJP is facing tough battle in at least four constituencies of the region. (-do -)

The loss of seats means the anger of the youth has manifested itself in unique ways.

And that is not going to be the end of it.

The anger and discontent of the Youth will continue to harm the ruling dispensation – whatever gloss they try to apply over the scheme. A contract based recruitment scheme in the military which effectively reduces a youth ready to serve in the army for rest of life to the job of a security guard merely after four years of service there is an insulting proposition for the youth (5)

No doubt it would be foolish to think that sudden introduction of Agnipath Scheme is an  issue which has import only for a particular region like Shekhawati- which sends significant number of youth to the military.

A random look at news clippings makes the picture clearer.

Here is a report from Uttarakhand which says how agnipath is going to dent BJP’s electoral prospects. (6) A web journal had filed a story of a village in Eastern UP, which has had a member to serve in the Army but now the introduction of Agnipath scheme has triggered ‘widespread anger toward the government’ (7)

If one revisits geography of the protest which one witnessed ( 2022) when the scheme was launched then one can see that it has an all India import. (8) And if one tries to take a look at the response of the student-youth in the hindi heartland to Rahul Gandhi led Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra – then one can see that the issue resonates especially across the youth-student population of the Hindi belt. (9)

For example, the fact that a ‘huge crowd — 1.5 lakh strong, according to a police officer on duty‘ greeted Rahul in Allahabad, a city which is a important hub of aspiring youth from the region who write competitive exams gives enough indication that the demand raised by Rahul about ‘scrapping the scheme’ has a deep resonance across states.

The youth might look silent but like the people from Shekhawati region it will express its strong disapproval of the ‘sudden destruction of 1.5 lakh jobs in the military’.

It very well knows the power of the vote and how the mighty also have to bow down before it.


Real Confusion or a Sinister Agenda!

The youth is busy finding ways and means to teach the powers that be a lesson for this this ‘cheating’ by the government but the top guns in the ruling dispensation seem still clueless about this scheme.

One notices a regular flip flop over this issue giving an indication of the state of confusion which exists at higher levels.

Take the case of Rajnath Singh, a senior leader of the BJP.

Within a gap of merely ten days he made two statements regarding the Agnipath Scheme both essentially contrary to each other.

On 28 th March 2024 in the Times Now Summit – he did sing paens to this scheme which has been introduced to bring in ‘youthfulness in the military’ but told that the government is open to necessary changes in the scheme. (10)

Not to be left behind Congress Chief immediately demanded government’s apology for the ‘flawed agniveer scheme’ (11) Less than ten days later, same Rajnath Singh addressed a press conference and painted a picture which showed that ‘All is Well’ with the scheme (12)

What must have prompted this sudden about turn from such a senior member of the Modi dispensation?

Should one say that it has to do with some sudden instruction from the top bosses in Delhi – to tell someone who really matters in the dispensation – or it is Sangh / BJP’s old habit of maintaing ambivalence to extract maximum benefit from unfolding situation.

A cursory glance at the last one and half year after this scheme was launched tells us that such flip flops have been witnessed umpteen times earlier.

For laypersons it may be difficult to understand that why the ruling dispensation is showing such an adamant attitude towards this scheme when it has even led to open dissensions / expressions of different opinion within the government (of course, rare have been such moments since last ten years)

Remember, Gen V K Singh ( retd) a cabinet minister in the Modi II dispensation who had no qualms in underlining – when there were large scale protests against the scheme in July 2022 – that he was not consulted before launching the scheme.

Till few months back the only fig leaf of sorts for the ruling dispensation was that it had consulted military leaders in connection with this scheme, one can even recall how few active military personnel were paraded before the media to lend credence to this scheme.

Little did the powers that be realised that all these ‘justifications’ for a scheme have an expiry date, if the content itself is highly problematic.


‘Scheme was a ‘Bolt from the Blue’ for Navy and Air Chief Marshals

What is important to note that when youth were out on streets demanding the scheme be revoked there were voices of concern even from the veterans in the army as well?

For example a retired Lt General had underlined how

‘The government’s intention is to kill the Army’s regimental system, which is the bedrock of fighting arms and comradeship; ‘Naam, Namak aur Nishan; to be sacrificed through virulent application of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. (13)

Looking at the fact that the ruling dispensation had made up its mind about introducing this contract based employment in the military – it had no time to listen to such counsel.

May be the brute majority in the Parliament has made it impervious to any suggestion.

Slowly as time passed on and elections were merely few months away it was presumed that the debate is finally ‘over’ or finally ‘died down but perhaps the government had not figured out that last word has not been said yet.

It was the month of December 2023 when extracts of former Army Chief Naravane’s memoirs titled ‘Four Stars to Destiny ‘were published in different web journals and he was invited for discussions on them also. Remember Naravane held the top post in the military when the controversial scheme was announced.

The extracts of the book which came out further exposed the government to criticism.

It made it clear that the government neither bothered to take suggestions from the army chief nor did it listen to the earlier Navy Chief Karamvir Singh’ written rejection off this scheme. As per Naravane’s version it did not even bother to invite the then incumbent Navy Chief or Air Chief for consultations before launching the scheme leading to Chief Naravane’s claim that for them ”the scheme was a bolt from the blue’.

As expected these revelations by the army chief rekindled the debate about the hasty implementation of this scheme. In fact in one of his interactions with media around the upcoming book the ex Army Chief even shared his experience of working with the defence Minister when China’s alleged incursions in India were making headlines:

[t]he political leadership didn’t have the courage to tell the army what should be done to respond to Chinese incursions on the Ladakh border. The defence minister merely told the army chief to “do whatever he felt was necessary”. In contrast, the narrative built was that the Modi regime was giving China a fitting reply. (14)

No doubt, ex army chief hogging headlines over his book was not an encouraging proposal for the powers that be and it promptly intervened and put on hold publication of this book. (15)

Sushant Singh, security expert was categorical in his assessment of the scheme and Modi government’s ‘apathy towards aspirations of the youth’:

..[T]he general demonstrates, perhaps unwittingly, that the Modi government was apathetic to the aspirations of the youth who wish to serve in the military, ignored the recommendations of the service chiefs, and was unconcerned about the health of the armed forces as an institution. Going into general elections in a couple of months, the ruling party is in no mood to let this truth about the Agnipath scheme be known to the public before they press the button on the voting machines. (16)

The book was to be out in the market by 15 th January 2024 but it is difficult to predict now whether or when it will be out and in what form.


Unpacking the Intransigence!

As we said in the beginning the saga of Agnipath still simmers.

Whatever might be the claims of the government that the Agnipath Scheme is going fine and now a third batch of Agniveers will be joining training, questions remain.

Silencing a debate does not mean that questions just wither away.

It is a sign of a mature deliberative democracy that a government would be open to review any of its decision if its very idea and its implementation have caused tremendous anxiety among large sections of people. In fact any sensible government would feel the urgency to do it if it has exposed itself to criticism that it did not held widespread consultations before taking the decision.

As of now it is rather difficult to comprehend the increasing intransigence shown by the Modi dispensation on the eve of elections about the much controversial Agnipath Scheme.

It is true that with this Agniveer scheme the government will be able to say goodbye to 75 per cent of this force  and will be saved from paying them pension and other benefits. In financial terms the it will be a ‘win win’ situation for the government because as of now it has to pay around 2.6 lakh Crore Rs from its defence budget of around 5 lakh crore Rs as part of payment and pension to the armed personnel.

Question arises it what stops this government from taking any corrective action?

It was this very dispensation which ultimately scrapped the ‘three farming laws’ – which were similarly introduced with haste – after a long drawn struggle of farmers in opposition to it – a struggle which witnessed martyrdom of more than 700 farmers.

What stops it from similarly scrapping this scheme which is not only unpopular but it also weakens the resistance power of the military in crucial situations.

How can an Agniveer with merely six months of training confront military personnel of ‘adversary countries’ which receive training for at least two years in various situations. Why the government wants to earn the label that it has been very cavalier in security matters – right from preparing personnel to defending the borders..

What stops it from scrapping it when the writing on the wall should be clear to it that it will face electoral reverses in crucial seats – thanks to the rising anger of the youth?

With youth opposing it, ordinary citizens resisting it, with military leaders questioning it and even own party leaders finding themselves confused over it, should not the government be ready to reverse its steps in the wrong direction.

Could it be said that the intransigence has roots in the larger agenda of the Hindutva Supremacist ideology – which drives the ruling dispensation- which has since its inception been keen to ‘arm the faithful’ in very many ways against the ‘infidels’ or against the ‘enemies of dharma’ ?

It would be height of innocence if one thinks that Modi government and plethora of its advisers have not thought over the possibility that every year thousands of such youth – who have received arms training and have gotten arms licence – enter the broader society as unemployed youth and what sort of ambience they would help generate or what sort of social anarchy they can help create.

Whether it wants to convey the impression that it desires such an army of unemployed youth in the society which would be cannon fodder to exclusivist ideology of Hindutva?

Whatever might be the case it portends a big danger to whatever remains of the secular fabric of India and signals a violent future for the Republic


Towards ‘Army of the Faithful’?

It is an open secret that in societies – which have witnessed tremendous militarisation of the populace – where so called majority is not only armed but has even received training in their usage, then in conflict situations – veering around religious or communal grounds – the majority community is able to unleash tremendous miseries on the ‘minorities’ – who are deprived of such opportunities.

Security Expert and analysit Sushant Singh- who had been associated with Centre for Policy Research- in his article in Al Jazeera provides details about social effects of such militarisation and the grave impact such arming of people has on societal violence. (17) He provides details about the ethnic cleansing undertaken in Yugoslavia – after its slow disintegration – or how Rwanda in Africa witnessed massive killings of minority Tutsi and some middle roaders Hutus at the hands of armed militia of Hutu tribe. According to rough estimates there five to six lakh sixty two thousand people were killed in the on-going massacre in Rwanda between 7 th April 1994 to 15 th July 1994.

We ourselves – as well as the rest of the world is aware about the violence at the time of partition of Indian subcontinent – which witnessed killings of around 10 to 20 lakh people of various communities and more than 12 million people were forcibly displaced from their abode. Studies also underline that those areas of Punjab – on both sides of the border – witnessed more violence which were more armed. Remember people from Punjab use to join the British army in significant numbers and number of such retired military personnel was quite significant on both sides.

Looking at the fact that majoritarian violence is on ascendance in the Indian subcontinent, the minority communities are being targeted in very many ways and such violence has support of the people in power and the media also looks biased, it is of key importance that we remain vigilant

Today situation is such that there are open calls of genocide of religious minorities in so called religious or other conferences but not only the executive keeps quiet and barring exceptional cases the role of the judiciary also leaves much to be desired. (18)

In such an explosive situation it is easy to imagine what sort of social impact such unemployed youth – who have received training in the army for four years – can create in the society, youth who will have arm licence also with him.

This happens to be the thirtieth year of the Rwanda Genocide and all attempts should be made that such crimes against humanity are now history now. There is much to learn for us looking at the fact that it has what the author calls ‘[e]erie parallels in today’s India’ (19)

Let us hope that the ruling dispensation takes a more dispassionate look at this scheme and decides to scrap it to win goodwill among the society and clear apprehensions.

If it fails to do it then it will be the  responsibility of the newly elected government to review this decision of the Modi II dispensation, scrap it forthwith and  recover professional character of the Indian military. 

Subhash Gatade is a left  activist associated with New Socialist Initiative

Notes :

1. https://www.indiatodayhindi.com/state/story/shekhawati-agniveer-loksabha-election-bjp-congress-979947-2024-04-14

2. https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/politics/congress-launches-jay-jawan-campaign-against-agnipath-scheme

3. https://twitter.com/parul_kuls/status/1779333172419027196/photo/1

4. https://www.indiatodayhindi.com/state/story/shekhawati-agniveer-loksabha-election-bjp-congress-979947-2024-04-14

5. . https://www.thequint.com/news/india/agnipath-protests-agniveer-scheme-violence-narendra-modi-bjp-unemployed-youth

6.  https://www.business-standard.com/elections/lok-sabha-election/agnipath-scheme-likely-to-dent-bjp-s-electoral-prospects-in-uttarakhand-124041200004_1.html)

7. https://theprint.in/india/what-if-i-die-or-become-disabled-at-war-in-up-village-of-jawans-few-want-to-join-army-as-agniveer/2044885/)

8. https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/opinion/agnipath-protests-manifestation-of-anger-bottled-up-among-youth-against-rampant-unemployment-in-modi-regime;  😉
9. https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/bharat-jodo-nyay-yatra-rahul-gandhis-job-pitch-drives-huge-youth-swirl/cid/2001388

10.  https://www.business-standard.com/industry/news/govt-open-to-change-in-agniveer-scheme-if-needed-says-rajnath-singh-124032800416_1.html


12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trpnHBKFepI

13. https://www.financialexpress.com/business/defence-agniveer-an-army-veterans-detailed-argument-against-agnipath-scheme-part-1-2566452/

14.  https://thewire.in/government/introducing-india-black-boxed

15. https://thewire.in/security/agnipath-scheme-bolt-out-of-the-blue-navy-air-force-former-army-chief-naravane-memoirs ; https://scroll.in/latest/1060829/decision-to-form-agnipath-scheme-took-armed-forces-by-surprise-says-former-army-chief-mm-naravane

16. https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/book-of-revelations-the-lid-on-m-m-naravanes-memoirs/cid/1995986


18. https://article-14.com/post/as-hindu-extremists-repeatedly-call-for-muslim-genocide-the-police-ignore-an-obvious-conspiracy-61dba33fa759c ; https://thediplomat.com/2022/01/indias-descent-into-a-spiral-of-genocidal-hate/;

19. https://www.newsclick.in/The-Rwandan-Genocide-Case-Eerie-Parallels-Today-India


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