It has been the refrain of those in power and their captive media channels that the uproar regarding the Agnipath scheme is a result of misinformation and lack of understanding. Let us for a moment agree that they are right, and that the veterans who are apprehensive of the outcome of this scheme are incompetent and don’t understand the nuances of this process. I have, therefore, waited until the same powers have issued their clarifications in live press conferences and the notifications have come into public domain. Studying all these, I have come out of an analysis which, with my limited experience and IQ, may be a misinterpretation. Not withstanding, here goes!
1. This scheme will make the Armed Forces the largest “unemployment generator” in the country. Each year, from 2026 onwards, we will release anything between 35,000 to maybe 60-75,000 young men and women, who had been earning a decent salary, into a world of uncertainty.
2. State governments, public and private sector companies are all jumping on to the bandwagon with promises of providing employment to the Agniveers. Promises are not good enough, especially when they are 4 years (and a general election) away. How many are willing to give a firm commitment with numbers, job descriptions and salary structures? How many of them have ever cared to provide decent employment to the current crop of veterans? Even more pertinently, how many of them have taken it on to themselves to take care of war widows and their children?
3. How many organizations are willing to give a salary and perks equivalent to what the Agniveer was getting at the end of his tenure? Bear in mind that the majority will be Class 10 or 12 pass only. Corporates currently pay far less to employees with much higher qualifications and relevant experience.
4. Our PM had famously stated that “selling pakodas outside Zee TV studios” is also a form of employment. So yes, maybe all Agniveers will get employment by this definition. However, ask any security guard outside a mall or a housing society how much he earns, it would be an eye-opener.
5. Why should a young man or woman opt for the Armed Forces when, with the same qualifications, he/she can apply for a permanent and long-term job with the Central Police Organisations? The Armed Forces will get those who the CPOs will reject.
The above issues relate mainly to the welfare and post-military prospects of the Agniveers. More important from the national security point of view is the possible fallout on the ethos, professionalism and capabilities of the Armed Forces. Consequent to the release of recruitment notifications and recent press releases, several assertions that had been made earlier in support of Agnipath have clearly proved to be fallacies. These are listed below.
1. The proponents of this scheme have stated that a modern Army needs technically savvy people to handle highly sophisticated and technologically advanced weapons and equipment. Now look at the required educational standards for Agniveers;
A. For general duty, class 10 pass with 45 per cent marks in aggregate and 33 per cent in each subject;
B. For the technical cadre of 'Agniveers' including for the Aviation wing, the aspirants will need to clear class 12 with Physics, Chemistry, Maths and English with 50 per cent marks in aggregate and 40 per cent in each subject;
C. For those applying for positions of clerk or storekeeper (Technical), Class 12 in any stream is required with 60 per cent marks in aggregate and 50 per cent in each subject. For this cadre, 50 per cent marks in English and Maths/Accounts/Book-Keeping are mandatory.
It is crystal clear from the above that the plan is, in no way, fulfilling the requirements of having tech-savvy soldiers ready for the battlefield of the future. Or do they seriously believe that an already curtailed training period of 6 months is enough to make a Class 10 passstudent with low marks into a technologically skilled and ready-for-battle soldier? Incidentally, it was highly amusing to hear Lt Gen Puri’s explanation that the modern generation is more high-tech because they use mobile phones from childhood!
2. The next issue concerns the youthful profile of the Armed Forces. The prescribed age limits for the Agniveers is 17.5 to 21 years, which happens to be the exact same as in the existing system. The difference will come in after four years, when the now 21.5 to 25 year old soldiers who have gained 4 years of military experience will be replaced by a fresh batch of 17.5 to 21 year old raw soldiers. How on earth does this make any sense at all? Also, if the idea is to have a young Army that is physically fit and tough, then would that imply that only the young, under-25 Agniveers would go into battle, while the older (and by implication, physically unfit) permanent cadre of officers, JCOs and men sit out the battle? So, experience, wisdom and maturity would be of no relevance.
3. To allay the concerns of the large majority of veterans (and the unspoken apprehensions of serving personnel), a statement was made that no change would be made in the Regimental system. Yet, the notification contradicts this by stating that “Agniveers can be posted to any regiment/unit and can be further transferred in organisational interest.” This is obviously the first step towards dismantling the time-tested system that forms the bedrock of the Indian Army.
4. To add insult to injury, it has now been notified that Agniveers will be entitled to a total of 30 days leave annually (excluding medical leave) as against 90 days to a regular soldier. Has anybody assessed the effect of this discrimination on the morale and performance of the Agniveer? And what happens to the 25% who get absorbed permanently after 4 years? Will they continue to be entitled to 30 days leave only? This definitely smells of a plot to surreptitiously bring down the Armed Forces’ leave entitlement to that of civilians or corporates.
My final observation. When the scheme was to be announced, the media conference featured the Raksha Mantri, the three Chiefs, the Principal DG PIB and the Additional Secretary DMA, all smiles and brimming with confidence. When pan-India violence erupted and the flames needed to be doused, the Raksha Mantri, the Chiefs, the Principal DG were nowhere to be seen. It was left to the Additional Secretary DMA and the Adjutant General (and his equivalents from the Navy and the Air Force) to field the questions. Is there a leadership lesson hidden somewhere here
Col. Ghosh is an ex-NDA, Infantry veteran & ex-NSG presently working in the field of aviation emergency response in India & the Middle East as Associate Director, IndiGo Airlines
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)