President’s Blog

Has the government consulted the people on the Agnipath Scheme?

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In the month of June 2022, the Government announced the Agnipath Scheme to recruit youth into the three armed forces, below the rank of Commissioned Officers, on a 4-year contract.  They would be called Agniveers.  The scheme replaces the earlier scheme of recruitment on regular payroll, to work for 15 to 20 years in the armed forces and retire with pension and benefits.

The Government announced the new scheme with great fanfare, with the feature that 25% of Agniveers would be retained at the end of four years for continuation.  It was claimed that the remaining 75% would have received enough training to find attractive jobs in various sectors.  Official sources, including some serving officers, have praised the scheme.  They have called it a revolutionary scheme which would make the armed forces leaner and more efficient. On the other hand, a large number of retired officers who are experts in strategic affairs have criticized it.  They have observed that the scheme would leave great lapses in the preparation and readiness for conflict. Others have claimed that it would destroy what is considered one of the last great institutions in the country.

The announcement has not been such a surprise because for a couple of years no call was made for recruitment.  Hundreds and thousands of young men aspiring to join the army were left hanging, and great anger erupted after the announcement.  In many parts of the country, a job in the army meant a sustained income and support for family groups, with the job and the pension being sought after.  It should be noted that society evolved the notion of pension for workers who risk life and limb for their profession, and after their service and in their old age it would amount to deferred pay and benefits.  It is not a sop or an undeserved benefit or a perk as is made out in ‘mainstream’ media and discourse.

Nevertheless, the Government has gone ahead, and the scheme is now a done deal. There is little doubt that in a labour and population rich country, the Government and the Armed Forces can count on an endless supply of men for its army, and there is little to suggest that there would be empathy for possible losses of large amounts of life if there should be war with an inexperienced collection of young men at the lowest rungs, typically what could be called `cannon fodder’.  In the era of sustainable finances for Government expenditure, it has been believed for a long time that the armed forces absorb a lot of revenue, and economists have called for ways to cut back on these.  Thus, the announcement has not come as a surprise to public policy watchers.

It is, however, important to enquire about the process by which such a seismic shift in policy has taken place.  Whether there has been any consultation of the stake-holders, namely the people and in particular the youth of India?  And those who live in border areas and those who have no other means of earning an income? For those whose families can afford it, there is an entire eco-system of better education. Indians today who are of the same age spend years preparing for competitive examinations.  A comparable situation adversely affecting this section would be one in which JEE, NEET and other competitive examinations are suddenly cancelled overnight.

Other important considerations that have not apparently been addressed by the Government include the impact of battle readiness.  In the Shanti Parva, Bheeshma has repeatedly stressed that the role of the Raja is to collect revenues, and it is his duty to provide Sukh and Raksha.   Securing of borders is one of the duties of the Raja. Kautilya has also discussed such matters, and in the Ain-e-Akbari there are extensive discussions of the distribution of resources and takings of the State. The Agnipath Scheme and its authors give one the feeling that no such discussion has taken place publicly, and even if it has, the results of such a discussion have not been presented to the people. Will the people at large be more assured about their security, and their wellbeing, in the absence of any discussion?

Among the duties of the Raja are processes of consultation after which he arrives at a wise decision.  In the present instance, neither the people were asked nor was Parliament even informed nor was there a debate.  We are informed that we now live in a more ‘democratic’ era, where the people in fact rule. How can they be rulers if they are not even consulted about important changes in policy affecting literally everyone?

The entire incidents smack of extreme arrogance of the Government, which makes decisions in consultation with big corporate houses, behind the backs of the people, and does not have even the courtesy to inform the people in a proper way.  It is a done deal and a fait accompli.  Such behaviour of Government in a democracy is deeply worrying and is a cause for concern for all the people.  We record our dismay and protest against the way in which the Agnipath and Agniveer Scheme have been thrust down the throats of the people of India.

By admin