Agnipath for Indian Military: FIERY PROTESTS RAGE ACROSS INDIA

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Flames and smoke billow out of the Farakka Express Train after it was set on fire by the protesters during a demonstration against the Agnipath Recruitment Scheme for the Armed Forces, at Danapur Railway Station, in Danapur on Friday. (ANI Photo)

The Indian government goes into damage control mode as violent protests over the new recruitment scheme shake the country. Is it a sign of warning over India’s unemployment crisis?

Our Bureau
Patna/New Delhi/Lucknow

As a major announcement, Agnipath Scheme was launched by the government on June 14 in an effort to bring a change in the recruitment process of the Armed Forces. But just in two days, with the new military recruitment scheme facing a backlash by Opposition, the Centre has decided to bring a change in the upper age limit for recruiting Agniveers. Granting a one-time waiver, the Centre on June 16 announced that the Agniveer upper age limit for recruitments via Agnipath Scheme has been extended to 23 years from 21 years.

However, the scheme did not go down well with the youth waiting for the resumption of the military recruitment for the last two years and political parties too extended support to the protesters demanding immediate withdrawal of the scheme. Notably, COVID-19 halted the Army’s recruitment for over two years. In 2019-2020, the Army recruited jawans and there has been no entry since then. On the other hand, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force had both recruited in the last two years respectively.

Nationwide protests against the Agnipath Scheme continue and several railway bogies were burnt as a mark of protest.

Violent protest over the Central government’s ‘Agnipath’ scheme for recruitment in armed forces continued across Bihar on Thursday with hundreds of aspirants disrupting rail and road traffic while police fired tear gas shells to disperse them.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari and Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Pande during a joint press conference regarding the announcement of Agneepath Recruitment Scheme, at the National Media Centre, in New Delhi on Tuesday. (ANI Photo/ Amlan Paliwal)

On Wednesday also, aspirants staged protests at Muzaffarpur, Begusarai and Buxar districts over the scheme, disrupting road and rail traffic movement. The recruitment of ‘Agniveers’ would begin in the next 90 days and the first batch will be ready by July 2023. “The government should give ‘Agniveers’ 20-30 per cent reservation in other jobs once they are out of service after four years under the ‘Agnipath’ scheme”, said a protester.

Amid violent protests in states like Bihar, UP, Uttarakhand, Telangana and Haryana, a Student Union in Delhi on Friday protested against the Agnipath scheme demanding the withdrawal of the same. All India Students’ Association staged a protest against the Agnipath scheme in Delhi following which the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) shut some gates of ITO station, Dhansa Bus Stand Metro station and Jama Masjid Metro station for some time.

In view of the developments, Delhi Police said that the law and order in the capital city will be maintained under all circumstances. The Gurugram authorities on Friday imposed Section 144 in the district barring the gathering of more than four persons as a pre-emptive measure. After Thursday’s protests in Haryana’s Palwal, mobile internet and SMS services were suspended in Fardiabad’s Ballabhgarh for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, unhappy members of Parliament consultative committee for defence, reacting over the nationwide violence on the Agnipath scheme said that the recruitment scheme is an “ill-conceived move by Central Government.”

Notably, the members of the Defence Consultative Committee especially the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) raised concern over the Agnipath scheme “Agneepath is an ill-conceived move and we will take up the matter in Défense Advisory Committee meeting before the upcoming Parliament session,” committee member Saugata Roy told ANI. Another TMC MP and floor leader of the party in Lok Sabha Sudip Bandopadhyay also clarified the party’s stand and said, “We will take up the Agnipath issue in the upcoming meeting with Rajnath Singh at an appropriate forum.”

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is the chairman of the committee and the meeting is likely to take place before the monsoon session. A total of twenty-four members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are members of the Member of Parliament Défense Advisory Committee.

Protestors raise slogans during a demonstration against the Agnipath Recruitment Scheme for the Armed Forces, at the Agra-Delhi national highway, in Mathura on Friday. (ANI Photo)

Taking to social media Telangana Minister for IT and Industries K T Rama Rao on Friday called the violent protests against Agnipath scheme an “eye opener” and an indicator of “unemployment crisis” across the country.

“The violent protests against #AgniveerScheme is an eye-opener and acute indicator of the magnitude of the unemployment crisis in the country,” he tweeted. “Pehle Desh ke Kisan Ke Saath khilvaadd’ Aur Ab Desh ke Jawan Ke Saath khilvaadd’ (First they messed with the country’s farmer, and now with the soldier). From One Rank – One Pension to proposed No Rank – No Pension!” the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) minister added in the tweet.

KTR’s remarks came after the Agnipath agitators vandalised the Secunderabad railway station premises in Hyderabad and set ablaze a train during a protest against the Agnipath scheme. The protestors also vandalised the windows of a train and torched a two-wheeler on tracks and a few bags on the platform.

Meanwhile, as the Central government is yet to announce the official date of commencement of the Agnipath scheme, Indian Army chief General Manoj Pande on Friday said that the training of first Agniveers will begin in December 2022 and the active service will commence in the middle of 2023.

In an interview, the Indian Army chief said, “Recruitment process is going to begin soon. Within the next two days, a notification will be issued on the official website. After that our Army recruitment organisations will declare a detailed schedule of registration and rally…” “As far as the question of Agniveers going to recruitment training centres is concerned, the training of first Agniveers will begin this December (in 2022) at the centres. The active service will commence in the middle of 2023,” he added.

The Ministry of Defence, in its statement on Tuesday, said that the Agnipath scheme has been designed to enable a youthful profile of the Armed Forces. It will provide an opportunity to the youth who may be keen to don the uniform by attracting young talent from the society who are more in tune with contemporary technological trends and plough back skilled, disciplined and motivated manpower into the society.

Highlighting that the recruitment process in the Indian Army was affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the last two years, Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Friday thanked the government for approving the ‘Agnipath’ scheme for the benefit of the youth of the country.

Now, Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari will be visiting six forward bases on Friday where he would address the troops and discuss the details of the Agnipath entry scheme.

The aim is to explain the details of the scheme to the last man in the force, IAF said in its official statement today. Notably, the Air Force currently has over 60 air stations all over India. These are grouped into seven commands: Western Air Command at New Delhi, Eastern Air Command at Shillong, Central Air Command at Prayagraj, and Southern Air Command at Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), South Western Air Command at Gandhinagar, Training Command at Bengaluru and Maintenance Command at Nagpur. The largest airbase is in Hindon, Uttar Pradesh.

Indian Air Force on Friday appreciated the government for increasing the upper age limit to 23 from 21 for recruitment under the Agnipath scheme for the year 2022.

In a virtual address, the Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said, “Happy to announce that the upper age limit (for recruitment) has been revised to 23 years. This will benefit the youth. The recruitment process for Indian Air Force will begin on June 24.”

Amid the violence, intelligence agencies are keeping a close watch on social media, especially WhatsApp groups that are spreading misinformation and provoking students on the Agnipath recruitment scheme.

They have also asked state police to keep watch on anti-social elements joining the protest to target police and public property. A senior official said that the staff working on the ground have been instructed to keep watch on social media accounts of coaching institutes for defence exam preparation and approach local police to talk to owners of these institutes and make them appeal to students to maintain peace and clarify their doubts on Agnipath recruitment scheme.

“Hundreds of WhatsApp groups have been created in the past few days where a lot of misinformation has been spread regarding the recruitment scheme. We are working closely with the state police and keeping them updated with any developing law and order situation,” he said.

He added that they are in coordination with local police to identify anti-social elements joining the protest to create violence.

As violent protests continue, in Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh over the Agnipath scheme, the Modi government faces one of the biggest challenges in its second term.

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