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Agnipath Protests: Train Attacked In Bihar, Highway Blocked. Why Are There Protests Against Agnipath

Protesters are miffed over the short four-year-period of employment under Agnipath policy and are also asking for relaxation in age limit.

Protesters in Bihar against Agnipath military recruitment policy
Protesters in Bihar against Agnipath military recruitment policy Twitter/Amit Yadav

Violence erupted in Bihar on Wednesday as protesters blocked roadways, railway tracks, pelted stones at a train, and vandalised public property in protest against the Agnipath policy for military recruitment unveiled by the Union government on Tuesday. 

Protesters in Muzaffarpur district took to streets and vandalised public property amid report of arson, whereas they blocked railway tracks and pelted stones at a train in Buxar district, according to an ABP News report. 

The report added that protests were also held at Chakkar Chowk, Gobarsahi Chowk, and Bhagwanpur Golambar area.

Why are people protesting

Protesters are miffed over the short four-year-period of employment under Agnipath policy as against longer service period with pension and lifelong benefits after retirement under the older recruitment policy. Under Agnipath, soldiers will be recruited for four years, after which only 25 per cent would be retained and the rest would be let go.

Protesters also blocked the National Highway 28 in Muzaffarpur and shouted "Bharti do ya arthi do (Give us jobs or have us killed)", according to NDTV.

The report added that people were also protesting against the reduced age limit for recruits. Under the new policy, recruits have to be aged between 17.5-21 years. Soldiers' recruitment in the armed forces has been suspended for over two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic and protesters said people awaiting recruitment for over two years should be given relaxation in age-limit.

One of the stated goals of the policy is to reduce the average age of the armed forces and have a youthful profile.

People demand reservations for Agnivirs

NDTV also quoted people as saying that there should be "20-30 per cent reservation" for Agnipath soldiers, dubbed Agnivirs, in other jobs once they are let go after four years.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday that several ministries, public sector undertakings, and state governments have conveyed that they would prioritise Agnipath soldiers, dubbed Agniveers, for filling their vacancies. 

Criticism of Agnipath policy

Independent experts and military veterans have criticised the Agnipath policy, saying it would affect the availability of trained personnel, will have implications on society, and that it has unreal expectaions.

Major General (Retired) Yash Mor called it a "non-implementable scheme".

He told Asianet Newsable, "Once we throw them out of the force after four years, what will be their loyalty to the defence establishment, which has not taken them back. So I would say from the security, morale, training, and HR points of view it is a non-implementable task. For specialised units like armoured, mechanised, EME, signal, infantry, engineers and air defence, they need seven-eight years to get some kind of specialisation." 

Former Director General of Military Operations Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia said it would lead to "militarisation" of society as trained, unemployed soldiers are released every year.

He said, "Death knell for armed forces, ToD not tested, No pilot project, straight implementation. Will also lead to militarisation of society, nearly 40,000 (75 per cent) youth year on year back rejected and dejected without a job, semi-trained in arms ex-Agnivirs. Not a good idea. No one gains."

It has also been highlighted that the idea that soldiers released after four years would easily find private sector jobs is flawed.

Experts have also said that Agnipath soldiers would not be fit for combat roles.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra said on Twitter, "It would be highly irresponsible, not to mention dangerous, to give the Agnipath recruits combat roles. Mostly this has to do with the enormous training a modern soldier requires. It’s not just shooting guns. It’s tactics, technology, interfacing, understanding tactics, etc. A crash course [of] maybe two-three years leaving just one of service and [it would be] a disproportionate amount invested for very little yield."

"The Indian Army fights for 'paltan ki izzat'. For most civilians and/or those who haven't seen combat, if anyone expects a person on a four-year tour of duty to understand, let alone climb 18,000+ feet, under fire, and fight, then they are either delusional or ill-informed," said Saikat Datta, Strategic Advisor at think tank The Dialogue, on Twitter.  

Lieutenant General (Retired) PR Shankar wrote in a blogpost, "In essence, the tour of duty proposal expects a superman from a kindergarten. We might be producing an Abhimanyu but he will not get out of the Chakravyuhu. After five years of tour of duty, Arjuns will not be available in our next Mahabharata. The cutting edge units will not be able to fight. There are no runners up in war."

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