Agnipath Protests: The Curse Of The ‘Sarkari Naukri’ Mindset
Beyond the pensions and the exits and the Agnipath programme as a whole, a lot has to do with the curse of the ‘sarkari naukri’ mindset.
It is this obsession, driven by the historic lack of growth in some regions with government jobs, that results in violent outbursts.
On expected lines, protests have erupted against the recently announced Agnipath programme, ushering in a new recruitment process for the armed forces. Stressing on transforming the human resource management within the forces, the programme will have recruits for four years, from rigorous training to allotting field duties across the country.
At the end of the course, one-fourth will be absorbed into the forces, all based on merit. The rest will be given a respectable exit with the necessary paperwork, course credits, skill certificates, and, most importantly, a generous payout of over Rs 1.2 million, apart from around Rs 1.2 million, in total, they shall draw as salary over four years.
Aspirants, in a few pockets, however, are not even remotely enthusiastic about this programme and have thus exercised their freedom of speech and expression by torching buses and trains, damaging public property, and holding the public ransom, including young children, expressing their displeasure against the reform.
Thus, the firefighting was underway instantaneously, with everyone, from representatives of the government to veterans from the forces, adding their two cents for rationality and reasoning to prevail over the madness unleashed in a few areas.
The street veto against the Agnipath programme reminds one of the agitations against the farm laws in Singhu and CAA in Shaheen Bagh, for those mindless protests stressed one or two provisions, perceived incorrectly to suit political conveniences, while ignoring the bigger picture.
The protests against the Agnipath programme are not related, not even remotely, to its provisions. Instead, it has more to do with an inflated sense of entitlement harboured by an average aspirant appearing for any government exam.
For most protesters and critics, the idea behind increasing the programme duration has nothing to do with the human resource management or needs of the forces but for making a case for a lifelong pension.
Put simply, protesters are demanding a monthly pension amount credited to their accounts, on average, for 40-50 years, starting at the age of 21-25, for a service they were a part of for four years. In which universe this demand has an economic and moral justification?
The argument around pensions conveniently ignores the monetary package offered by the government, for the protesters are not interested in being able to catch a fish themselves but in availing a fish, each month for a lifetime. Hence, you have the critics questioning the prospects of the programme graduates who are asked to exit (or choose to) after four years.
Interestingly, similar questions are not asked of graduates who spend their entire 20s, a phase when one is best suited to indulge in professional risks and garnering work experience and exposure, preparing for UPSC exams at the cost of their parents’ money.
Even for the aspirants who crack the UPSC exam in the first attempt, the bare minimum process takes two years. For most, it takes much longer than that. At a success rate of 0.1 per cent, UPSC amounts to four-six years of investment with a dead end and without a monetary exit.
In Agnipath, for every 100 entrants, 25 will make the cut, eventually, and the rest 75 can opt to pursue higher education or diplomas, start a business, pursue private-sector prospects, or come back to appear for the armed forces through the Combined Defence Services (CDS) exam.
Most importantly, they will have the exposure and experience incomparable to what one gets while squandering away their youth in the hope of cracking a government exam, be it the UPSC or any bank exam.
The government must exercise caution, however, in the promises they make for the 75 per cent who shall exit every year. While it is logical to give them preference in the selection for other forces, for instance, the CAPF, CRPF, or even the state police force, to promise them reservations in any other government exam would be a wrong precedent.
Let the skills acquired do the talking, let the preferences in government roles be dictated by the relevance of the knowledge acquired during the programme, but to say that for programme graduates, at the end of four years, seats must be reserved in some public sector banks would be a travesty. For instance, empower them with credit access through MUDRA, but do not overpromise.
Beyond the pensions and the exits and the programme as a whole, a lot has to do with the curse of the ‘sarkari naukri’ mindset, one that plagues young people across India, especially in the regions of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and even in Punjab, as was witnessed during the farmer protests.
The worry was not about the role of the private sector in agriculture but if the MSPs, guaranteed for the produce, would go away. Today, the mere suggestion of a government job being without a pension and an early exit is driving violent protests on the ground.
It is this obsession, driven by the historic lack of growth in some regions with government jobs, that results in violent outbursts. In 2013-14, students from Bihar were agitating and indulging in vandalism, for they were against the inculcation of an aptitude test into the preliminary examination of the UPSC.
They wanted to become ambassadors, bureaucrats, revenue and police officers but rejected the idea of qualifying (scoring 33 per cent) for an exam with questions on Math and English from the syllabus until Class 10.
Again, it is this mindset that makes one question job security and pensions after exiting the Agnipath programme and while choosing not to dwell around the possibilities that otherwise open up elsewhere. For many, a meagre lifetime pension is preferable to a corpus they can use to fund the beginnings of their careers.
Unemployment or slow growth is no justification for the frustration of the protesters or the violence that comes along with it. If this logic held any merit, every lay-off during the pandemic should have ushered in a wave of violence.
At the end of the day, the state capacity is finite. Even with the Agnipath programme, or the million recruitments planned for the next eighteen months, the government cannot and must not absorb every aspirant or dish out pensions and unreasonable benefits for short-term political brownie points.
The private sector, from MSMEs with less than five people employed or corporates with thousands of people, do not offer pensions, a stable income, or even job security, and yet, they are the engines of growth today while offering high-paying jobs, the flexibility of working hours, and several other tangible and intangible benefits to motivated individuals.
However, the private sector is disregarded for bread crumbs called pensions and waivers in the form of MSPs. This is the mental plague the state must fight against.
The Nehruvian socialism we inherited with an inflated pride in ourselves and an exaggerated dependency on the state, coupled with the hate of the private sector and wealth creators, has today given us a generation of young Indians that are unable to digest a reform because they do not understand how to deploy four years of experience gained in the toughest terrains and a million rupees at the age of 21-25 for their future.
From here, the younger generation has two choices. One, sit crib, protest, and toil away, citing political rhetoric that has no place in today's India. Two, improvise, innovate, excel, and make the most of the opportunities at their disposal, be it a four-year Agnipath programme, a MUDRA loan, or something within the private sector, just as 95 per cent of India's workforce does.
The reforms are not the problem. The mindset it. That is what needs an upgrade.
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