Playing with Fire

The Centre is not going to withdraw the notorious ‘Agnipath’ scheme despite massive protests across the country. The nation-wide agitation against the Modi government was spontaneous and protesters in most cases indulged in violence, destroying railway properties to vent their anger. With direct street action by thousands of disgruntled youth, intensifying throughout the country, even at the time of writing, the government announced that ten percent of the job vacancies in the ministry of defence as well as in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and Assam Rifles would be reserved for ‘Agniveers’ (i.e. Agnipath recruits), meeting eligible criteria. No doubt it was an after-thought to pacify the aggrieved and home ministry’s damage control exercise, without much impact on the agitators. The “Bharat Bandh” called by some opposition parties, including Congress, on June 20, to protest the ‘Agnipath’ scheme for recruitment in the armed forces disrupted life in the country as over 529 trains were cancelled and internet services were suspended, mainly in Bihar.

The dubious plan of offering an abridged tenure of four years and retirement without pension triggered the outburst. It was a crude joke to the unemployed. What they will do after four years was not explained by the authorities. Reservation in Para-military forces won’t make any difference. Retired army officers are divided over the issue. Many say it would bring in disaster in defence management. They opine that the government should put the scheme on hold and start recruitment under the old model as thousands of youngsters have been waiting for recruitment, after clearing some of the tests, over the past two years. Some say the movement will subside if they raise the service period to seven years instead of four. The movement was spontaneous because young men aspiring for job in the army are desperate. They understand the hoax and refuse to subscribe to the ‘Agnipath’ agenda. They want full time employment, not part-time job and that too without any social security.

The government is no longer interested in footing the ever increasing bill of pension. So they have devised this controversial device to create a reserve army of security guards who will be finally employed, after four years, in corporate offices and factories. Not quite unexpectedly, some corporate houses hailed Modi’s plan. ‘Agnipath’ fury continues unabated, notwithstanding the defence minister’s assurance that ‘Agnipath’ is a golden opportunity for the youth to join regular forces. But the protesters were not convinced. The Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was actually defending the indefensible. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi described ‘Agnipath’ as a reformist programme with a bright future. But people know the bitter results of his reforms in case of demonetisation, CAA and GST. The same is true of ‘Agnipath’. Why they have selected the Assam Rifles to allot 10 percent reservation for ‘Agniveers’ is open to question. Assam is now ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Many see in the move a design to train saffron stormtroopers, better to say RSS cadres, for armed mobilisation against their adversaries, imagined or real.

From Bihar to Telengana hundreds of thousands of students marched through the streets to protest against the central government. Students’ organisations in Bihar led by the All India Students Association called a 24-hour Bandh on June 18. Surprisingly, some allies of BJP also opposed ‘Agnipath’, though in a low key voice. The law enforcing authorities now find a conspiracy by coaching centres to motivate students to take to streets and indulge in vandalism. It’s their way to identify a scapegoat to silence the voice of dissent and divert public attention.

The government looks determined to go ahead with their new programme to militarise the society without considering the consequences. As per the official statement, the training of first batch of Agniveers will begin in December 2022 and the active service is likely to begin in the middle of 2023.

For one thing no spontaneous movement can sustain itself for long without a leadership. The opposition is opposing the government without a goal to reach. The Congress party otherwise harried in Delhi over super activities of Enforcement Directorate against its top leaders has expressed its desire to launch agitation against ‘Agnipath’. They are critical of Modi’s unilateral exercise, not the merit or demerit of the scheme. What all they want is joint consultation before announcement of such an important decision of national importance. So they find in Modi a shadow of Hitler and hope he will not succeed in implementing ‘Agnipath’, as he had to withdraw farm laws in the face of stiff resistance by farmers. That the farmers’ joint platform ‘Sanjukta Kisan Morcha’ has come forward to support the anti-Agnipath stir is refreshing at least, for the time being. The poor unemployed without any party affiliation may heave a sigh of relief.

The unemployment situation in the country is actually a time bomb. With jobless growth and systematic de-industrialisation of organised sector job market is shrinking and shrinking. And Corona-related lockdowns have marginalised workers in the informal sector beyond recovery. The government is actually playing with fire knowing full well that Opposition parties are too disunited to make it uncomfortable even on a burning issue like unemployment.



Back to Home Page

Vol 55, No. 1, Jul 3 - 9, 2022