With protests against the government's new 'Agnipath' scheme for recruitment of armed defence personnel turning violent in several parts of the country, the new scheme has led to a political slugfest for the BJP. Even as reports of violence, burning of trains and damage to public property as well as stone-pelting roll in from states like Bihar, Haryana, and others, the Agnveers scheme is getting brickbats from across the political spectrum. Many opposition leaders as well leaders from within the BJP have raised objection to the scheme as not only being against the aspirations of the youth of the nation but also a step toward weakening the armed forces of the country.
The scheme was announced by the government for the recruitment of soldiers in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force largely on a short-term contractual basis to cut the ballooning salary and pension bills and enable a youthful profile of the armed forces. Under the 'Agnipath' scheme, around 45,000 people aged between 17.5 and 21 years will be inducted into the armed forces for a four-year period, following which most of them will have to take compulsory retirement sans pension or gratuity benefits although some will be retained.
Of the total annual recruits, only 25 per cent will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission.
'Listen to voice of unemployed': Rahul Gandhi, Congress
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to listen to the voice of unemployed youths and don't take 'agnipareeksha (trial by fire)' of their patience by making them walk on 'Agnipath'.
"No rank, no pension, no direct recruitment for 2 years, no stable future after four years, no respect shown by the government for the army," Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi, attacking the Centre over the scheme.
"Listen to the voice of unemployed youths of the country, don't take 'agnipareeksha' of their patience by making them walk on 'Agnipath', Mr. prime minister," the former Congress chief said.
Attacking the government over the 'Agnipath' scheme, Gandhi had warned on Wednesday that it will reduce the operational effectiveness of the armed forces whose dignity and valour must not be compromised.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had also hit out at the government and asked why it was making recruitment in the army its "laboratory".
Ex-soldier and senior Congress leader Captain Ajay Yadav in a statement said that the scheme is aimed to demean the spirit of forces and cut down on benefits being given to army jawans.
"Army is not profession but passion and life. Our districts like Rewari send their sons to serve the nation every year and this demeans their passion. Over four lakh posts are vacant in the army and this cheap attempt to compensate them with small contract employment is unacceptable," Yadav said.
'Fatal, Negligent': Akhilesh Yadav, SP
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav on Thursday hit out at the central government over the Agnipath scheme, calling the move “negligent” and potentially “fatal” for the country’s future. "The security of the country is not a short-term or informal issue; it expects a very serious and long-term policy. The negligent attitude that is being adopted regarding military recruitment will prove to be fatal when it comes to the protection of the future of the country and the youth,” Akhilesh said in a tweet.
“Agnipath se path per agni na ho (‘Agnipath’ must not set the path on fire)," he added in the same tweet.
'Unnecessary burden': Varun Gandhi, BJP
BJP MP Varun Gandhi Thursday said the scheme will give rise to more disaffection among the youths and asked the government to make its stand clear.
In a letter to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Gandhi said the young population has shared their questions and doubts with him about the radical changes in the soldiers’ recruitment process which also proposes that the 75 per cent of the recruits under the scheme will retire after four years of service without pension. As 75 per cent of soldiers will become "unemployed" after four years and their total numbers will keep rising every year, it will give a rise to more disaffection among the youth, Gandhi said.
He asked what will be the prospects for these retired soldiers when the corporate sector does not show much interest in hiring even the regular military personnel who retire after 15 years.
Four years of service will disrupt their education, and they will also face difficulties in getting another job or more education as they will be older to others with similar qualification, he said, adding they will face financial hardship as well. These soldiers with only six-month basic training may be a cause of disruption to the existing regimental formations, the Lok Sabha MP said.
As only 25 per cent of the 'Agniveers' will continue after four years, the scheme will result in a waste of training cost and will prove to be an unnecessary burden on the defence budget, he has claimed in his letter to Singh. The government should keep the interest of unemployed youth paramount and bring out various policy aspects of this initiative, he said.
'Unfair to rural youth': Mayawati, BSP
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati on Thursday hit out at the Union government, terming the schem “unfair towards rural youth”.
"After keeping the recruitment pending in the army for a long time, the centre has now announced a new recruitment scheme 'Agniveer' with a short duration of four years in the army.
“Even though it has been called an attractive scheme, the youths of the country are dissatisfied and angry. They are openly opposing the change in army recruitment system,” Mayawati said in a tweet in Hindi.
"They believe that the government is limiting the soldiers’ tenure to four years in order to eliminate pension benefits in the army and government jobs, which is grossly unfair and deleterious to the future of rural youth and their families," Mayawati said.
In a series of tweets, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister said that the new move of recruitment will add to the woes of the people already beset with inflation and poverty.
"People in the country are already afflicted by rising poverty, inflation, unemployment, wrong policies, and arrogant working style of the government, in such a situation, the uneasiness spread among the youth regarding new recruitment system in the army is causing anxiety.
“The government should reconsider its decision immediately, this is the demand of BSP,” Mayawati added.
'Will cause joblessness in military men, led to law and order problem': Tejashwi Yadav, RJD
Bihar's Leader of the opposition Tejashwi Yadav, came out with a flurry of tweets sharing his misgivings about scheme. The RJD leader expressed apprehensions that like contractual hiring in Railways and “lateral entry” in other government departments, Agnipath “will be used to do away with the constitutionally sanctioned reservation benefits”.
The former Bihar Deputy CM also alleged “BJP and Sangh Parivar may use the scheme for providing arms training, at government expense, to its hate-filled supporters and fringe elements”. “As a result of the Agnipath scheme, many young men with military training will be rendered jobless at a tender age of 22. Will it not result in a major law and order problem in the country?”, he asked.
He also asked, with rhetorical flourish, whether the government expected youngsters recruited under the Agnipath scheme to spend rest of their lives working as security guards of “big capitalists friendly to the BJP”.
He also took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of 10 lakh government jobs till the end of next year and asked if the number “takes into account the 19 lakh jobs promised in Bihar” ahead of the 2020 assembly polls
'Agniveer scheme a joke with youth': Hanuman Beniwal, RLP
RLP leader and Nagaur, Rajasthan MP Hanuman Beniwal has opposed to scheme as well and said there was strong resentment among the youth against the Center for not holding army recruitment rallies for the last two years and not completing the process of recruitment rallies held earlier “and now due to the plan to recruit in the army on contract”. Beniwal further said the Agneepath Scheme is a “joke” with the youths of the country. Recruiting young man into the army under the Agneepath scheme to give six-month weapon training and removing them after four years will lead to incidents of gang war. The Centre should withdraw the scheme and recruit soldiers in the army as before, he said.
(With inputs from PTI)