Agnipath: A Closer Look At Six Contentious Issues

Agnipath: A Closer Look At Six Contentious Issues

by Brigadier Niladri Shankar Mukherjee - Jul 3, 2022 03:01 PM +05:30 IST
Agnipath: A Closer Look At Six Contentious IssuesYoung army recruits undergoing training.
  • Let us consider six contentious and debated issues of the newly instated military recruitment scheme.

Ever since the new military recruitment policy was rolled out, there has been an outpouring of opinions, analyses, and some cynical observations by all stakeholders. This has given rise to three distinct groups from among the stakeholders and the larger affected populace —

  1. Those who see great merit in the new recruitment policy

  2. Those who notice many flaws, but are willing to give it a try with the caveat that the scheme will be flexible and suitable tweaking will be done as and when bumps and obstacles are identified

  3. Those who have gone ballistic with the view that the armed forces are going to lose their cohesiveness and intrinsic strength and that the scheme is a disaster and should be rolled back immediately

There have been comments in the press that the body language and muted presentations of the three chiefs, who, along with the Defence Minister, were briefing the nation on Agnipath recruitment, was indicative of military leadership that had been forced by the government to accept the new recruitment policy.

The feeling is that the policy was conjured by wily civil service bureaucrats and economic advisers who had no clue how the armed forces have evolved in our country, first under British rule and then in independent India.

It would be naive to accept the view that the three service chiefs had no spine and that they gave in to the political dispensation of the day without pointing out the pitfalls of the new recruitment policy.

One must appreciate the fact that the three service chiefs have risen to the highest rank in their respective services and there is nothing that can induce them to go out with the stigma of being wreckers of the service to which they have given their all.

Sniggers, that the chiefs hope to be suitably rehabilitated after retirement if they toe the government line, is to do them an injustice that is demeaning and not appreciable or acceptable by any soldier who looks up to their chiefs.

Let us consider some of the contentious and debated issues:

One, It’s being said that six months training and three-and-a-half-years tenure in the forces followed by demobilisation with no pension is not likely to attract the right and committed youth to join the Armed Forces. The argument made is that six months training is not enough.

This line of thought is not accepted by experts. The United States has voluntary enlistment, 10 weeks training, four years service tenure, and then demobilisation with no pension. China has compulsory recruitment, six months training as in the case with the Agnipath scheme, two years service, and then release with no pension.

France recruits on contract, after which there is training for three months followed by a three-year service tenure before the recruits are released with no pension. Russia has compulsory recruitment on contract with one year of training and another year of active service, after which the soldier is released with no pension. Israel compulsorily recruits all youths for 32 months and 24 months for men and women respectively.

Notwithstanding the examples, the period of basic training for a soldier in India too is six to 10 months.

Two, all the countries listed above have schemes such as unemployment allowances and social security schemes until the recruits are absorbed into a second career. In our new recruitment policy, the government is handing over a tranche of Rs 11.71 lakh and a commitment of absorbing 20 per cent of the released 75 per cent in the Central Armed Police Forces and in Defence Ministry public sector undertakings. Another 10 per cent are to be absorbed into state APFs and regular police.

Theoretically, it can be said that approximately 10 per cent may opt for setting up a personal business and another 5-6 per cent will opt for further studies to acquire additional credits for absorption in the corporate sector.

Of the remaining 25 per cent, the released soldiers coming from technical arms, such as medical, electrical and mechanical, and engineering services, are likely to quickly find jobs in the healthcare, automotive, construction, aviation, and shipping sectors.

Approximately another 10 per cent will get absorbed in the security service sectors as supervisors. The security sector is growing at 27-28 per cent every year and the emoluments are substantial. In order to ensure that all 75 per cent released agniveers are suitably absorbed in their second careers, the governments at the centre and state must issue notifications and, where necessary, pass suitable legislation, so that this lateral absorption of agniveers does not get mired in politics and derailed by entrenched lobbies.

The government as well as private sector and independent education entrepreneurs must also design “bridge courses” in close cooperation with the corporate sector to channelise agniveers to the requisite sector of employment. These bridge and orientation courses will go a long way in generating additional jobs for professional trainers. A new kind of “coaching institutes” will most likely flourish, providing alternate employment opportunities for many more stakeholders.

Three, another question being asked is how the 25 per cent agniveers will be identified and retained. This is not a difficult task at all. The armed forces are already designing a retention test. The test is likely to be held by a board, either at formation level or at regimental or training centres, in order to ensure transparency and no favouritism or corrupt practices enter into the process. Credits for unit or regiment-level performance will be dovetailed into this process.

Four, another issue dogging the minds of veterans and the serving fraternity is the identity of regiments of the fighting arms, some of which have more than 200 years of history. Many believe it is this identity that is their battle-winning ingredient. The Indian armed forces already have 75 per cent all-castes and class composition. In fact, the Navy and Air Force already follow an all-India caste and class composition.

It is only in the Indian Army that the infantry regiments are still following the class-based composition, as was structured by the British to keep troops divided by caste, class, and region for their own policy of loyalty and balance. However, in the Agnipath recruitment policy, agniveers will be channelised for some time based on the availability of same-class recruitment to the regiments of their class and caste.

Over time, as the policy stabilises, agniveers will be posted to regiments wherever there are vacancies.

The regiment of the guards, the grenadier regiment, the paratroop regiment, and the rashtriya rifles are already all-class regiments and are doing very well as performing units. The Army has already made it clear that the regimental identity will not be done away with, as it has an emotional connection that can and should be retained.

Five, eventually, the main issue that is being raised by all opponents of the policy is the fact that agniveers will be left to fend for themselves and will not get any pension, medical support, access to canteen facilities, and so on. In fact, it is purely an economic issue. All other observations and issues that are being raised to run down the scheme have primarily been built around this main economic issue.

If the nation has to modernise its armed forces, if the forces have to manufacture and procure fifth-generation weapons and equipment as well as ships, submarines, and aircraft, then it has to find the money to do it with. With modern warfare likely to become contact-less during the initial engagements, the necessity of downsizing and reducing the pension bills has to be addressed. It is also essential to maintain a youthful armed forces.

To argue that the pension bill of the civilians paid out of defence estimates is more than the regular forces is to take this debate in a different direction. The civilians employed by the Defence Ministry play a crucial role in maintaining the edifice on which the armed forces stand.

Finally, one aspect must not be lost sight of by the powers who will successfully implement the policy. The soldier joins the armed forces to ensure the security of the nation and, in doing so, is prepared to lay down their life. The nation represented by the government of the day is equally committed to ensuring that the moral contract of the soldier and the state is maintained and that the soldier's family is taken care of.

In essence, therefore, the state must make every effort to ensure that the demobilised agniveers get absorbed into a second career, where they not only serve with pride, but there is scope to rise in position and rank.

Brigadier Niladri Shankar Mukherjee is a 1969 batch ex-Army Officer. He is presently secretary of the think tank “Centre for Eastern and North Eastern Regional Studies-Kolkata" (CENNRS-K).
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