The ongoing nationwide protests by youths against the ‘Agnipath’ defence recruitment scheme entered its third day on Friday, with protests spreading to other states like Telangana and West Bengal.
Protests had begun in Bihar on Wednesday, and these soon spread to UP, Rajasthan, MP, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana. One person was killed and three others were injured in police firing in Secunderabad on Friday. Nearly 5,000 protesters vandalized the Secunderabad railway station and set fire to East Coast Express. They also vandalized shopping stalls and railway properties. There were reports of a petrol bomb thrown by protesters inside a train.
Protests intensified in Bihar too, where youths on Friday set fire to at least 20 coaches of Vikramshila Express and Sampark Kranti Express at Lakhisarai and Samastipur stations, and blocked traffic on highways in Buxar, Bhgalpur and Samastipur. There have been massive disruptions in railway traffic in Bihar and neighbouring states.
In Ballia, UP, protesters set on fire an empty train, and they were later lathicharged by police. Till now, more than 200 train services have been disrupted, 35 trains have been cancelled and 13 trains have been short terminated. In Bettiah, Bihar, the residence of Deputy CM Renu Devi was stoned by protesters, her son alleged. In Bharatpur, Rajasthan, protesters stoned trains from railway tracks, while internet services were suspended in Ballbhgarh and Palwal, Haryana, after Thursday’s arson.
In Bihar, protesters set fire to a BJP office in Nawada, while the home of a BJP legislator was vandalized in Chhapra, Saran. The agitation has now spread to 17 districts. Road and rail communication in Bihar has been badly disrupted. Train services have been blocked on Patna-Gaya and Patna-Buxar routes. At Danapur station in Bihar on Friday, a train was set on fire, while the opposition RJD has given a Bihar Bandh call on Saturday. Reports of protests and arson have come from Arrah, Gopalganj, Nawada, Jehanabad, Madhubani, Kaimur, Buxar, Munger and Rohtas of Bihar.
In a late-night development, the Defence Ministry raised the upper age limit from 21 to 23 years as a one-time waiver to allow more youths to apply, since the recruitments were stopped for the last two years due to Covid pandemic. The Centre has said that the number of recruitments this year under Agnipath scheme will be thrice the average recruitments done annually. The 12-lqakh strong Indian Army recruits over 50,000 soldiers every year, and the figure had touched more than 80 thousand in 2019.
Several protesters who spoke to India TV on camera alleged that they had cleared their physical and medical tests, but since no written test will be conducted, their two-year-long efforts would go waste. There appears to be utter confusion among youths about the Agnipath scheme due to incomplete information and baseless rumours. Protesters in Chhapra, Bihar, said there were not enemies of the nation and they wanted to serve in the armed forces. They said, they had been making strenuous physical efforts to clear physical tests, but the new scheme has “broken our dreams”.
Experts agree that youths who have cleared physical and medical fitness tests, should be allowed to complete the process and should be recruited, while those who fail to clear the tests, should be given a chance to try again through Agnipath scheme. A way must be found out to assuage the feelings of these youths. They are not begging for jobs, they are only saying that they have put in strenuous efforts, appeared in exam and cleared physical tests. The least the Centre can do is to declare their written exam results and recruit those who have cleared the exam.
The youths are angry because they have been told that they would be recruited for four years and would not get pension after compulsory retirement. Experts say, it is correct that they would not get pension, but after compulsory retirement, they will be offered jobs in paramilitary forces and private sector, and will not be left high and dry.
Senior defence experts say that the Agnipath scheme is good, because after a four-year army job, a youth aged 24 years will get more than Rs 11 lakhs as package, along with a diploma. These youths, they say, should think about their career and not dream about pension at the age of 24. I think senior bureaucrats, officers and leaders should speak to these youths and allay their misgivings about the Agnipath scheme.
The youths and their families need proper guidance. Pension and job security are big issues. There are lakhs of poor families, where if a single member of the family joins the armed forces, the entire family erupts in joy, because a job in the army is considered permanent, with good salaries and allowances. Such youths become the main source of help for treating their elders and arranging education for their young ones. With a regular pension, their worries during old age are also looked after.
Army recruitment is not a job-related issue alone. The issue relates to the life of family members and the strong motive of the soldier who joins the army. The matter needs to be gone through delicately, because the youths at large are unhappy, jobless and angry.
While trying to understand the contours of the agitation, one should know that there are hundreds of coaching centres spread across the country, where youths are trained to pass physical, written and medical fitness tests for joining the armed forces. There are millions of young aspirants who feel that once they get a job in the army, their family life is secured. These youths practise 1,600 metre run and one mile run daily, which needs to be completed within a span of less than six minutes, if one aspires for selection. For wide chests, youths undergo regular training. They should also clear medical fitness tests, and, above all, undergo coaching to crack the written exam.
Normally, a youth spends Rs 60,000 to Rs one lakh at these coaching centres. Some poor youths take loans or sell their agricultural land to pay for coaching. With the introduction of Agnipath or TOD (Tour Of Duty) scheme, these youths feel they have been ‘cheated’, because their job tenure would be hardly four years. Since they feel that their strenuous efforts for the last two years have gone waste, they have now come out on the streets, and are indulging in arson and violence.
It was the duty of coaching centre owners to explain and convince these youths about the opportunities available under Agnipath scheme, but with the proliferation of baseless and inciting posts and videos on Facebook and YouTube, the anger of these youths got magnified manifold.
Political parties have now jumped into the fray, with leaders like Tejashwi Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav, Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi, Asaduddin Owaisi, and others trying to ignite passions. Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “No rank, no pension, no direct recruitment for last 2 years, no stable future after 4 years, this govt lacks respect for the army. Listen to voice of unemployed youths, Do not take their ‘agni-pareeksha’ by making them cross the ‘Agnipath’, Pradhan Mantri Ji.”
His sister Priyanka tweeted “Youths preparing for armed forces had dreams of serving the nation, their parents, their families, What will the new scheme give to them? After 4 years, no job guarantee, no pension, ‘no rank, no pension’ Modi Ji please do not crush the dreams of these youths.”
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav tweeted: “National security is not a short-term or informal matter, it needs a serious and long-term policy. The stop-gap, irresponsible attitude adopted for army recruitment will prove to be dangerous for the future of the nation and its youths. There must be no ‘agni’ on ‘Agnipath’”.
Those alleging that no consultations were done with ex-army officers before launching ‘Agnipath’, are doing a disservice to the armed forces. Such allegations harm the values of our armed forces.
Says, Air Officer-In-Charge (Personnel) Air Marshal Suraj Kumar Jha, “The youths of today have so many options, and compared to those options, Agnipath scheme is a better opportunity. The Agniveers will get a Class 12 diploma, very good training during four years of job, and will get upskilling after leaving armed forces. It is a first-class scheme”.
I, too, feel the Agnipath scheme is a good opportunity for our youths. If our youths have any confusion or misgivings, they should find out more details about this scheme. They should not trust the half-baked advice of coaching centres. They should also refrain from reposing their trust in remarks made by political parties.
If the youths want, they should wait for more details about this scheme, but, at no cost, must they come out on the streets. If they want to convey anything, they can do so peacefully, without resorting to arson and stone pelting. Please do not set fire to trains. These are national properties. It will work against you, and nobody will support your cause.
Remember, if the police files cases against you for rioting and arson, your future will be spoiled. You cannot join the armed forces and become ‘Agniveer’, nor will you get any job elsewhere. I think, none of our youths will want that. They must understand the consequences of arson and violence.
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