(Asian Independent)- It is true that the Agnipath recruitment scheme is a contractual-soldier scheme. That is, a youth of 17 to 21 years of age will be recruited in the three armies on a contract for four years term. They will not be entitled to the facilities and social security available to the regular soldiers till now. (The concessions being talked about after massive, and widespread violent protests against the scheme are the government’s after-thought. How long this after-thought will last cannot be said.) The country has had a long experience in the last 20-25 years of what kind of contractual appointments are being made. Meanwhile, governments of all parties have remained in power. So, there is no need to go into that political detail. The need is to see that when people are working on contractual basis in every field including education, health, sanitation, the turn of the army was simply bound to come one day.
The opposition to the Agnipath recruitment scheme by the aspirants is understandable. But what is the basis of opposition from opposition leaders, intellectuals and civil society activists? Contracting in appointments is a direct product of neo-liberal reforms and can be found everywhere. (Two days ago, a journalist friend entrusted me with the task of writing an article on contract-teaching. I sent the article to him the very next day, mentioning the prevalence of contract-teaching from the primary schools to the colleges all over the country. Having been associated with the education field I did not face any difficulty in preparing the article. All the details are, in any case, available to all public.)
Have these very people, opposed to contract recruitment in the armies now, have ever been opposed to neo-liberal reforms? If so, how did contractual appointments replace permanent appointments on such a large scale across the country in all the departments? If it is to be assumed that they had no apprehension that the matter would reach the contractual appointments in the armed forces, would they now fully oppose this anti-constitutional practice? That is, will the neo-liberal or corporate capitalist government policies continuing in the name of reforms, be opposed by them? If they do not stop this neo-imperialist onslaught that has been going on in the country for the last three decades, then the army cannot be saved from its shackles. If they don’t take a position on this, then on what basis are they advising the youth who are agitating against the scheme to beware of ‘fake nationalists’?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his patriarchal organization and his ‘navratnas’ have strange ideas about the army, like – merchants face more danger than soldiers, the RSS army will reach the front against the enemy before India’s army and achieve victory, to thwart enemy ambushes bunkers should be covered with cow dung, soldiers should regularly recite Gita-Ramayana to maintain valor instead of training and practice, to give a befitting reply to the enemy one should have a chest of so many inches, to avenge so many heads one should bring so many heads of enemy, India has become great and superpower in the reign of RSS/BJP, now no one can stop it from realizing the dream of ‘Akhand Bharat’… so on and so forth! It would be a futile exercise to expect any serious discourse or initiative about army, valour and war from such perspective.
But what about the senior most officers in the army? It is right that in a democracy, the army works under the civilian government. It is the pride of the army in upholding this constitutional obligation. However, on important and delicate issues that appear from time to time before the society at least retired military officers should direct the nation in their discretion. The government has put forward senior army officers to lobby for the Agnipath recruitment scheme. There is certainly an emotional weight to this strategy. The chiefs of the three armies have announced the quick-start of the Agnipath recruitment scheme despite all the opposition. It has also been made clear that the youth involved in violent activities during the protests against the scheme will not be given an opportunity to become Agniveers.
Describing it as a well-thought-out scheme prepared by the military officers after due deliberations, they have argued for the inclusion of youthful enthusiasm in the army. It would have been better if this well thought out scheme had been placed in the public domain at least for a little time. Then, there might not have been a case of large scale violent resistance to the scheme. The varied interpretations and assurances coming forth through various official-non-official channels regarding the scheme should have been made public before its launch. It seems that even the ‘well thought out scheme’ propagation is an after-thought on the part of its mentors.
Here the question may arise that if youthful enthusiasm in the armies is so important that it requires new blood after every four years, as the three army chiefs and some other senior army officers are saying, then this enthusiasm should also be inculcated in the bureaucracy of the army as well. The senior officers of the armies have achieved everything as far as name, fame, facilities and comforts are concerned. They should take leave now and let the new officers take their place. The new officers must have acquired the training and skills of highest degree under their capable command to handle every necessary responsibility. Otherwise also, certain important posts would be waiting for senior military officers after retirement. Corporate houses can also be a good place for them in corporate India!
Doing justice to the military officers, it can be assumed that by insisting on this scheme, they are simply not following the orders of the elected government, they too have their own support for the scheme. The way the political and intellectual leadership of the country is supportive of neo-liberalism, it is natural to have an impact on the military leadership as well. Just as civil officers, who have gained their power and position under the old system of recruitment, might not see the pain of young and middle-aged people engaged in contractual jobs, military officers may also feel that even the military task can be done without permanent recruitments (and facilities associated with them). Tre-services Lt Gen Anil Puri, who is the Additional Secretary in the Department of Military Affairs, has solemnly stated that they have spoken to the Adanis, Ambanis and other corporate houses that they will employ Agniveers. A BJP leader has stated that they will be engaged in BJP offices as Guards. That is, the young blood of the country is such a cheap thing, that anyone can use it for any assignment, and throw it away after a certain time.
I do not know what to say to the youth agitating against the Agnipath recruitment scheme. I feel that the people of my present and earlier generations are their culprits. All that can be said is that their movement could be right, violence is not. Many youth activists have referred to the farmers’ movement. I feel that their position is not such that they can create another long movement in present circumstances. They have to understand that the neo-liberals harvested away even the crops of the peasant movement. The activists against whom cases were filed during the farmers movement have not been taken back yet.
I would say to the young recruitment hopefuls to remember that they are young but not naive. The government has set up the army before them, which mandates that every aspirant must give in writing that they did not engage in violent resistance to the scheme. Cases have been registered against many of them. Those who refer to them as ‘our children’ as well as those who oppose the Agnipath scheme and are claiming to support them, do not seem to be their future companions. The future and their careers are a subject about which they themselves have to contemplate and worry .
(The writer associated with the socialist movement is a former teacher of Delhi University and a fellow of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla)