How Agnipath is similar to the repealed farm laws

In January this year, a video of a soldier went viral. Amid the snow-covered terrains of Kashmir in the peak of winter, Indian Army personnel could be seen braving the sub-zero temperature and chilly winds. The video was shared by the handle of Indian Army PRO Udhampur with a line from Rudyard Kipling’s 1914: “No easy hope or lies/Shall bring us to our goal/But iron sacrifice Of body, will, and soul/There is but one task for all/One life for each to give/Who stands if Freedom fall?”.

It is unfortunate now that the Union government has chosen to undermine the hard work of our soldiers by introducing the Agnipath scheme that virtually amounts to instituting contractualisation in the Armed Forces. Supporters of the scheme argue that it will reduce the expenditure on pensions from the defence budget. This speaks of a neoliberal attitude: Soldiers and veterans are seen as burdens on the state. Their sacrifices and contributions will be erased after four years as the state will forget them once their tenure is over. The scheme is a setback for a large number of youngsters who have spent years preparing themselves to join the Army. The pride and honour associated with serving the Army will be undermined as post-retirement benefits are taken away. The Army cannot be treated as an entity where employees can be taken on board on a temporary basis to fulfil urgent and compelling requirements. Its remit goes much beyond the mere creation of human resources for the defence of our country. The institutional importance of national security will suffer once corporate practices of contractualisation are introduced. That is likely to have a big impact on the professionalism, spirit and military ethos within the Armed Forces. Soldiers who are on a contract and have no certainty about their future will have to carry the massive burden of having to prepare and plan for a second career after their period of service.

Flames rise from a train set on fire by protestors at Secundrabad station in Hyderabad after protests against the Centre’s new Agnipath scheme. (Photo: AP)

In response to CP(M) MP V Sivadasan’s query about the number of vacancies in the Army, Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt informed, in a written reply, that there are over 1.22 lakh vacancies, including 8,362 in officer ranks, in the three wings of the Indian military. There has been no recruitment in the last two years even as unemployment has grown. The number for recruitments this year through Agnipath would be about 45,000. It seems, therefore, that the government’s intention is not just to introduce temporary Army staff but also to downsize its strength. That is not the right thing to do given the current geopolitical condition. The new scheme has been introduced at a time when our borders are witnessing frequent confrontations. The reduced strength of the Army will put more stress on the existing staff which can further impact the efficiency of the forces. The return of the Agniveers to the ranks of the unemployed, and very likely unskilled pool, will create more stress for the Union and state governments. They will need to be adequately rehabilitated.

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The Agnipath Scheme also runs contrary to the Narendra Modi government’s credo of a strong nation. It’s of a piece with the now annulled farm laws. The spontaneous protests show the unemployed youngsters of the country have nothing to lose in the fight for their pride. To borrow Rudyard Kipling’s words from the poem that the Ministry of Defence quoted in its tweet, “For all we have and are/For all our children’s fate/Stand up and take the war”.

The writer is a CPM MP, Rajya Sabha

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