The protests over the Agnipath scheme have presented an opportunity for the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) to establish its position as a third political front in Rajasthan where the party currently has three sitting MLAs and one MP. Nagaur MP and RLP founder Hanuman Beniwal is travelling to various districts to garner support for a massive rally against the scheme on June 27.
The four-year-old RLP, known for having massive support among farmers, soldiers and the Jat community, was the first to hit the streets of Rajasthan and raise protests against the scheme at the Jaipur collectorate. Apart from the party members, its chief Beniwal was joined by retired soldiers and army aspirants who unanimously demanded a rollback of the scheme. After holding a series of protests in several districts of Rajasthan, Beniwal now is set to hold a massive rally in Jodhpur on June 27 followed by a march to New Delhi via Jaipur to protest against the scheme. Since then he has also been vocal against the scheme on his Twitter timeline.
TOD के विरोध में 27 जून को जोधपुर में होने वाली #युवा_हुंकार_महारैली को लेकर नागौर संसदीय क्षेत्र के बोरावड़ (मकराना) में जन संपर्क के छाया चित्र !@RLPINDIAorg pic.twitter.com/9LmKi6eb2R— HANUMAN BENIWAL (@hanumanbeniwal) June 24, 2022
The Union government had last week unveiled the scheme under which the youth aged 17 and a half and 21 will be recruited in the Army, Navy and Air Force on a contractual basis for four years. Soldiers who are recruited under this scheme will be known as Agniveers. The announcement had triggered protests across the country. Following public anger, the Central government announced an increase in the upper age limit for the recruitment of Agniveers from 21 years to 23 years for the recruitment cycle of 2022.
In terms of active participation of personnel in the armed forces, thousands of youth from Rajasthan districts such as Nagaur, Sikar, Jhunjhunu, and Churu join the forces every year. The districts also host coaching centres and defence academies where the aspiring youth are trained by former soldiers. And in Nagaur, Beniwal's hometown, there are several training institutes where the youth are trained to enter the army and defence. At the moment thousands are protesting against the Agnipath scheme.
"As per the scheme, only 25 per cent will be employed. What about the remaining 75 per cent? The scheme will train them, and teach them how to use arms, but there is no job guarantee. It will have an adverse effect on the youth and they can do wrong things or even take up guns', RLP chief Hanuman Beniwal told Outlook.
Eyeing Jat votes
This is the second time RLP has protested against a massive scheme launched by the centre. Beniwal, a former ally of NDA stood against the BJP government and had earlier also publically protested against the three farm laws before ending his affiliation with the BJP in December 2020. This time, however, Beniwal moved swiftly and protested against the scheme openly as compared to 2020 when he waited for the initial few months for the BJP government to repeal the farm laws.
According to political analysts in the state, Beniwal's two moves - protesting against the farm laws subsequently disassociating with NDA, and protesting against the Agnipath scheme - will benefit him in the upcoming assembly and Lok Sabha polls. "The RLP enjoys major support from the Jat community, from where thousands of youngsters join the army and defence every year. This move will help him to position his party as a pro-Jat and farmer party in Rajasthan. Also, the RLP was the first to come on the streets in comparison to the ruling Congress who took up the issue slightly late as they were initially busy staging a protest at the Raj Bhavan in protest against the ED's notices to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi", political analyst and former political science professor at Rajasthan University, Dr Rajiv Gupta told Outlook.
The Rajasthan Congress will also hold demonstrations against the Centre’s Agnipath scheme across the state on June 27. "The NDA government has failed the people of India. Youth are being ignored and democracy and armed forces are being weakened. The Congress supports the youth opposing this scheme and we shall demonstrate a massive protest on June 27", Govind Singh Dotasara, Pradesh Congress Committee President said in a release.
Last week, the Rajasthan Cabinet has also passed a resolution demanding the withdrawal of the Centre's Agnipath scheme. A meeting of the State Council of Ministers was held under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot at the Chief Minister's residence.