Agnipariksha: A Blazing Discourse On The 'Agniveer' Proposal

Is the 'Agniveer' proposal laudable or laughable? Indian Army veterans & serving officers share their take in this exclusive MVI debate.


Agnipariksha: A Blazing Discourse On The 'Agniveer' Proposal

Editor’s Note: The opinion editorial by author and analyst Colonel Rajinder Singh Kushwaha (Retd) headlined ‘Agniveer and Tour of Duty: The Crying Need For Lean & Mean Army,’ published by Mission Victory India (MVI) on 19 April 2022, reopened the debate on the very idea and futuristic need for a lean and mean army triggered by the recently published proposal of ‘Tour of Duty’ of three to five years for young soldiers who on completion of their term of engagement will be called ‘Agniveers’. Col. Kushwaha (Retd) has analysed this proposal and highlighted its need for the army, keeping in mind the vision of our futuristic military engagements.

To obtain views, comments and perceptions of both serving military officers and veterans, MVI invited responses from the aforementioned. The aim was to find out whether this vision of ‘Lean and Mean Army,’ coupled with the ‘Tour of Duty’ proposal, was actually being considered by the Government of India (GoI)-- and more importantly, whether it was a realistic and practical one wherein the ‘vision’ was in sync with the ‘ground reality’?

The responses received mainly from Indian Armed Forces veterans, published here collectively, give our readers a relatively accurate and realistic picture to draw their own conclusions.

What Faujis Have To Say

Col. Kushwaha’s (Retd) arguments in the aforementioned article have elicited some favour from within the ranks of veterans. One such view is of Lieutenant General Asit Mistry (Retd), Director School of Internal Security, Defence & Strategic Studies (SISDSS), Rashtriya Raksha University (RRU), and former Commandant, National Defence Academy (NDA):

I do not know what the system’s thinking is, nor am I in the system, so I can not speak for the ‘thinking in the corridors of power.’  

However, my first impression is that there is no harm in doing a pilot study. For simplicity’s sake, let’s take the example of an infantry battalion. If you look at the composition of an infantry battalion, ballpark figures… about 10 percent of strength is officers and Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs). Another 30-35 percent is Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs). These, in any case, are and will continue to be long term career soldiers.

That leaves about 55-60 percent of Sepoys with a range of service brackets from 1 year to 16-17 years. Their proportion may vary from unit to unit depending on a host of local factors. However, we can broadly take one third in each five-year bracket, i.e. below five years, five-10 years and 10-15 years. Thus, about 15-20  percent of sepoys would be below the five years service bracket.

Conversely, sepoys above 10 years of service would be those who do not want a promotion or have not been found fit for promotion. This bracket is unlikely to have the best motivation and commitment in either case.

While I do not know the details of the so-called Agniveer or any other such model being referred to in the media, and I even do not know if such a proposal is actually on the cards, there is no harm in trying a Pilot Study.

The potential negatives/challenges or the downside of this concept must be factored in. Some of these are: a much faster turnover of personnel in Units (as it is with all the RR and other ERE commitments, there is a constant churning of manpower), the ability of Regimental Centres to churn out the required number of recruits, standards of training in the Units and formations, particularly equipment-intensive units where usually even the recruit training is longer consisting of basic military training (BMT) and trade-specific training and most important  - the impact on Unit Cohesiveness which is a hallmark of our strengths. When you have two different soldiers in the same unit, the effect on morale, integration, and cohesiveness must be considered, particularly in combat units. In the Services, where the concept of regimentation and  Parent Unit is not so much in practice, this model may be more feasible, or so it seems on the face of it.

Above all, the attractiveness of a career in the army should not be undermined. Therefore adequate safeguards need to be built in, for, e.g. assured side-stepping into the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF), State Police or other such government jobs, a golden handshake or some other such arrangement(s). Maybe a survey should be carried out along with a pilot study to ascertain the views of troops and potential recruits on the impact on the attractiveness of careers.

However, dissenters seem to far outnumber those favouring the concept of Agniveers.

Brigadier Pradeep Sharma (Retd), author, analyst & security columnist, says: The author (Col. Kushwaha) is so out of depth, and this article is almost like India does not require boots on the ground, trained soldiers, team spirit and much more. Like General Naravane said, “a defence budget is not to be looked at as a burden but an investment.”

There have been many write-ups on this subject; the most realistic one appeared in ‘gunners shot’ the misplaced idea that this will reduce the pension bill is a complete misnomer; it will raise the cost of training; add a three-yearly cost of a golden handshake. The less said, the better. Let us not fool ourselves.

Group Captain TP Srivastava (Retd), author & analyst, states: The nature of war has not changed. Propagating flawed and unproven concepts [Referring to Col. Kushwaha's Op-Ed] are not tried to test national security. If one is proposing Agniveers, what is wrong with mercenaries? Evaluating the military with cash is intellectual insanity. The fundamental issue is that soldiers are not manufactured as items. They are groomed. Grooming requires time.' Proponents of the Agniveer concept have obviously not read Chanakya's vision of the military, the most essential attribute of national power. Many intellectually impaired argue that there has been no war in the past 51 years. To them, I merely say, that is why.

MVI also received responses from serving officers of the Indian Army. Commanding Officer of an Infantry Battalion observed: Future wars will be technically more advanced, but due to terrain configuration and the vast expanse of our country, it will boil down to having boots on the ground. Kargil was won due to spirited junior leadership and gallantry of Infantry soldiers that secured unassailable, lofty and dominating heights occupied by Pakistan soldiers. No amount of precision laser-guided missiles could dislodge the enemy. The Bofors, too, were successful as their detachments and crews were well trained to manoeuvre the guns for effective fire.

The Galwan skirmish was contained due to the speedy reactions of  Infantry and Artillery regiment personnel to a numerically superior PLA force. By the time our Long Range Vectors, Beyond Visual Range (BVR), Smart Munitions, Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) and other advanced technology come into play, the D-day would have been declared by our adversary. I think we won't have the initiative in the war with the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Yet, I feel we will match them in a war of attrition despite his technological advantage as their army is inexperienced mainly and lacks battle-hardened junior leadership, which we have. He might be too reliant on his technology, and therein lies an opportunity for us!

Yet another serving officer who has also formerly been a CO of an Infantry Battalion, told MVI: Col Kushwaha does not qualify how a military tenure of three to five years will create smarter soldiers when (axiomatically) a full term soldier has failed to do so. However, I do agree with his  points pertaining to reducing the pension liabilities and lateral transfer to CAPFs, but yet again these personnel in CAPFs will not be available during mobilisation. The CAPF will be employed for RAS. Notwithstanding, the concept should be given a try.

Last, but not the least, an analyst & columnist, Col. Shivaji Ranjan Ghosh’s (Retd) shared his take: While one welcomes dissenting views for the sake of achieving an analytical balance, this article seems to be written to justify the author’s [Col. Kushwaha’s] point of view by any means. Consequently, it is full of bombastic, sweeping statements, cliches, and self-contradictions.

Let us first take the issue of modernisation versus salary and pension bills. Various articles have already demonstrated that the pension bills may reduce, but the salary bills will be barely impacted. None, however, have talked about the time frame within which the impact would be felt. Unless all pensioners drop dead at the same time and all others also pass away before they reach the age of pensionable service, the pensionary’ burden’ will continue for a long, long time. Thus, this money will not start becoming available before at least 15-20 years.

The author appears to be linking the views of veterans with their resentment of the One Rank One Pension (OROP) case being rejected by the Supreme Court. This is indeed far from the truth. Veterans are speaking out against this proposal because they understand the realities and because they speak from experience.

The constant refrain of comparing our situation with the US or Israel makes no sense whatsoever. This proposal is talking of volunteers, not conscripted soldiers. This is a completely different scenario. Do we really think that Agniveers will be like an Israeli soldier, notwithstanding the impressive title? Or will the reduction in pensions provide us all the resources to suddenly become a superpower?

The assumption made by the author that the released Agniveers will provide a huge pool of trained, motivated and disciplined reservists is utopian to say the least. Also, it contradicts the main point being stressed over and over again, viz., the war of the future will be technological and not manpower intensive. If that be so, then why would you want a pool of reservists? And how many ex-servicemen have been actually recalled in the past conflicts?

Terms like Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMA), Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and BVR are being freely thrown around to prove the redundancy of the human being in battle, and Ukraine seems to be the favourite example. In reality, the current war is proving everything to the contrary. With almost two months having elapsed, it seems that the magic of technology ensuring a short and swift campaign has turned out to be a myth. And in any case, we should tread carefully before jumping to any kind of conclusion regarding the war in Ukraine because it is evident even to the meanest intelligence that all the information coming out from there is blatant Western propaganda presenting a completely lopsided perspective.

When will we stop having these idealistic dreams that the CPOs would happily accept ex-servicemen or Agniveers? That is never going to happen.

The author [Col. Kushwaha (Retd)] has stated that the ToD concept would achieve the following:

  • Have a disciplined citizenry
  • Have readily available trained manpower in times of crisis

I think we need to consider a third and far more frightening possibility. These trained young men (and possibly women too) would be out in the world with minor prospects of gainful employment (notwithstanding the promises being made now) and would be ideal candidates for private armies. The nation truly needs to consider the ramifications of this proposal in this context.

Finally, what has hurt me the most in this article [Col. Kushwaha’s Op-Ed] is the phrase ‘dud’ and ‘unintelligent’ to describe the valiant soldier of today and yesterday. It is an insult to those gallant young men guarding the borders selflessly while those far removed from there are discussing means to cut down their pensions. I have just returned from a visit to my battalion deployed on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, and it is evident that we still need our soldiers, and we should not allow those who have never worn a uniform to tell us what is best for us.

To conclude, I am convinced that what we are headed for is not a ‘Lean and Mean Army,’ but a ‘Lean and Green Army,’ an army that is raw, inexperienced and certainly not battle-hardened. The consequences need no elaboration

MVI believes that new conceptualisations, and free flowing discourse around suggested military reforms, is of immense value #ForTheFauj. We urge you to help us continue building  civil, spirited discussions. Add to the discourse, keep the conversation going!

The editorial team at ‘Mission Victory India’, invites responses for the purposes of furthering this debate. Views, based on your professional experiences may be sent at: [email protected]


(Views expressed are the respondents own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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Agniveer & Tour Of Duty: The Crying Need For A Lean & Mean Army!

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