‘Agnipath’ Still Simmers…

The anger and anxieties   over ‘Agnipath’ scheme have not died down. Gone is the period of open protests by youth and students and other ordinary people which rocked the country when the scheme was hastily announced (June 2022). Silence doesn’t mean that the youth are now happy about this scheme. In an ambience of rising unemployment how is it possible to be happy about the fact that “due to the implementation of the Agniveer scheme, around 1.5 lakh candidates selected for the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy between 2019 and 2022 were allegedly denied joining and all future possibilities of such an employment being closed forever.”

The Shekhavati region in Rajasthan is called ‘Jatland’ in informal discussion. A characteristic feature of this area which covers Shikar, Jhunjhunu, Churu and Nagore is that it sends largest number of recruits to Indian army. Apart from other issues the issue of Agniveer is also a hot topic in this region and there are reports that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is finding it difficult to handle people’s anger over it and will face reverses in the ensuing parliamentary polls.

Anyone who is keen to know how Agnipath has literally ‘destroyed’ thousands of jobs in military can take a tour of Kuchman City in Nagour (Rajasthan), once a hub of more than 200 defence coaching academies preparing students from Rajasthan, Haryana and neighbouring parts of Western UP for entrance exams in Military.
Today, Kuchman City is a ‘deserted’ town, the number of functional coaching academies is less than 15-20 from the peak of 200, with even lesser candidates preparing there.

Like all other life and death issues the mainstream media that is out and out pro- Modi government has largely forgotten about it, but there are occasions when the truth comes out rather starkly in stray reports here and there.

The anger and discontent of the youth will continue to harm the ruling dispensation--whatever gloss they try to apply over the scheme. A contract-based recruitment scheme in the military which effectively reduces a youth ready to serve in the army for rest of life to the job a security guard merely after four years of service there is an insulating proposition for the youth.

If one revisits geography of the protest as it happened in 2022 when the scheme was launched then one sees that it has an all India import. And if one tries to take a look at the response of the student-youth in the Hindi heartland to Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Nayay Yatra then one can see that the issue of Agniveer resonates especially across the youth-student population of the Hindi belt.

The youth might look silent at the moment but like the people of Shekhawati region it will express its strong disapproval of sudden destruction of1.5 lakh jobs in the military.

When youth were out on streets demanding the scheme be revoked there were voices of concern from the veterans in the army itself. Whatever might be the claims of the government that the Agnipath Scheme is going fine and now a third batch of Agniveers will be joining training, questions remain. Silencing the voice of the protesters for the time being does not mean that questions just wither away. It remains to be seen whether the Agniveer scheme becomes a major game changer in electoral politics in north India.

[Contributed by Subhas Gatade]

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Vol 56, No. 46, May 12 - 18, 2024