‘Army Is A Family; We Can’t Abandon Our Boys After 4 Years’

Major (Retd) A Singh says he was appalled to see Services Chiefs acting as Govt spokesmen to defend the new recruitment scheme. His take on Agnipath

Although the Agnipath scheme seeks to cut costs for Indian defence establishment – which is a long pending reform – the manner in which the Government launched the scheme is shocking. Any decision or scheme that impacts the masses must pass through a public debate, open discussion and resultant feedback. But, as in the case of GST, demonetisation or 2000 lockdown, the Government has in one swift stroke ruined the ambition and aspiration of millions of youth.

I have served the Indian Army for several years – I voluntarily retired as a Major in 2004 – and I can vouch that such a scheme goes against the ethos of our defence services. Indian Armed Forces serve as a large family unit as per their tradition, culture and ethics. Armed forces are not a tourist venture that will abandon their boys after a four-year tour of duty.

Ideally, such a scheme needs a pilot project and phased implementation. This will entail a small unit of recruits, say 10%, to be hired as Agniveers while the rest follow standard permanent recruitment. On the basis of the pros and cons of the first experimental Agniveer unit, the Defence establishment may decide on its future.

Everyone remembers how many times the entire GST framework and its rulebook were changed to suit the new challenges emerging out of its implementation. Ditto with the decisions of demonetisation and lockdown. How the government seems so cocksure about Agnipath’s success beats me. They haven’t learnt anything from their past mistakes.

ALSO READ: ‘Agnipath Has Burnt Down My Dreams, Career’

I was also appalled at the way our Service chiefs appeared on camera to defend this scheme. Do you remember any such occasion in the 75 years of the glorious history of our defence forces when top commanders had to defend a government action? They were clearly forced to act as the spokesperson of the government.

There have been media reports about the plight of thousands of men who had cleared their physical tests for the Armed Forces and were waiting for their joining letters when suddenly this scheme was announced. There was no consideration about their future despite an assurance from the force.

Out of four years in service for Agniveers, the training period will be of six months and there is also a provision for a nine-month leave period. So practically, the Agniveers will have three years of active duty. Can such a brief training and service period produce a skilled and up-to-the-mark soldier? In addition they will not get the rank of an ex-Serviceman.

Various announcements are being made by private industrial houses to absorb Agniveers after returning from the forces, but it is easy to break a promise after four years. Can they be held accountable for these assurances? And God forbid, how will our police forces tackle a situation when these trained but jobless Agniveers, in desperation for work, join some unlawful venture!

As told to Rajat Rai

(The photo used is representational as the narrator requested anonymity for personal reasons)

‘Agnipath Has Burnt Down My Dreams, Career Preparation’

Anshu Mishra, who was preparing hard to join Indian Army, says the Govt decision on Tour of Duty has destroyed the ambitions of millions of youth. His views:

Wake up at 3.30 every morning. Hit the ground for training around 4.30 AM. Run for around 45 minutes. Exercise for another hour. Attend coaching classes and prepare for the written exam during the day. Repeat the running and exercise routine in the evening. Do it every day, without fail. No Sunday, no rest, no break.

This is not the Army training session, but a usual day of an army aspirant like me. I have been following this routine for the last four years and I am not the only one to do so. There are lakhs of such aspirants all across the country who also follow the same routine every day.

Joining the army and donning the uniform is a passion. There are people in the Indian Army from my family, relatives and friends. Since I turned 18, I have been training hard to join the force. I have also appeared in physical tests during the recruitment drive of the Army. Sadly, I missed being qualified twice in the running test by a whisker. I am 21 years and 9 months old now and I had committed to myself to pass the physical test of Army this time. The government’s Tour of Duty (TOD) or Agnipath announcement consigned all my dreams to flames.

Even If I pass the physical, medical and written test this year, I will be out of the Army after four years. Imagine the irony: I trained for four year to get a job that will retire me after four years! All the effort, practice and commitment have blown up in my face. What will I do after the completion of my four-year tenure in the Army? Back to square one. Does the country have that many private jobs?

ALSO READ: ‘Armed Forces In 21st Century Must Be Lean & Mean’

Most Army aspirants come from humble backgrounds. We also have a lot of pressure from the family to start earning. I recently moved from Bihar to Chhattisgarh in search of a job. Along with my army preparation, I was also doing a job of data operator at a private company there. Last month, I quit the job and came back to my hometown so that I could fully focus on my preparation. Now, this Agnipath decision of the government has burnt down all my dreams. Swaha!

Many students are protesting on the streets and venting out their frustration, but a majority of the aspirants are still in total shock. Our brains are numb. We don’t know what to do, how to react.

I think this is the worst decision of the Modi government and they will have to roll it back. The model of other countries can’t be copied and pasted in India. This policy might have serious repercussions in future. I read some posts on social media that raise concerns about the military-trained youth and unemployment will be a lethal combination. Such a posse of men will be susceptible to and can be recruited by criminal gangs for unlawful activities. Those concerns are right. In search of gainful employment, some youths can take the wrong path.

As told to Md Tausif Alam

‘Armed Forces in 21st Century Must Be Lean And Mean’

Abhimanyu Rai, a retired Subedar Major from Military Engineering Services, says it is too early to comment on Agnipath scheme as much will depend on its implementation. His views:

The Centre’s decision to shorten the service period of foot soldiers under Agnipath scheme has caused largescale protests in the country. However, as I see it this is a long-due reform to cut the flab in defence services, decrease recurring costs and build a lean and mean force. This is 21st century. Our Armed Forces need some course correction to meet the challenges of new-age warfare.

Right now, it is too early to comment on the scheme as its success will depend on how our top bureaucrats and political leaders bring it into force. They must look beyond short-term gains of this recruitment scheme. Being an ex-army man, allow me to examine the scheme dispassionately.

The primary motive of the scheme is to reduce the burgeoning pension bill of the Armed Forces. I recently read an article that stated that 58% of the military expenditure is towards pension and related costs.

Reducing the period of training (six months) and the entitled leaves (nine months, provided one is entitled to it), they will be an effective service period of about a three-year tour of duty, discharge employment needs to be effectively taken care of.

Singh (inset) feels Agnipath entails a far-reaching reform in Indian Armed Forces

The battle or ‘attributed to military service’ casualties will be treated on par with regular soldiers. This is appreciable and in addition, a fixed percentage from such intake will be absorbed as regular soldiers on merit is also welcomed.

ALSO READ: ‘There Will Be No Rollback Of Agnipath Scheme’

Additional advantages cited in the scheme are: reducing the age profile of the Armed Forces, strengthening the society with military connect, improving career prospects of regular soldiers, instilling military character qualities and nationalism among the youth.

The scheme is certainly a far-reaching reform and short-term engagement for officers/soldiers is a time-tested method of managing manpower and reducing the pension budget of the defence services and the Indian military is no stranger to it.

It will give strength to the armed forces by creating a strong pool of skilled youth, who can, in the future, easily work in private security forces and other allied professions. This will help our youth to become disciplined which will, in turn, also effectively benefit the country.

However, what I can make out from what is available in the public domain, it, no doubt, has a number of conceptual flaws — be it the motivation of the youth for enrolment, service tenure, training period, operational/organizational needs of the forces and post-discharge benefits — for it to be a viable option.

However, the strength of the armed forces will not be reduced because the recruitment of 50,000 soldiers is going to continue every year to replace 60,000 retiring soldiers. The scheme, thus, comes with the advantage that this will make the country’s army young and it is also being propagated that the Indian Armed Forces will become more `jawan’ on average.

As told to Rajat Rai