Voicing his protest against the Centre's disruptive Agnipath scheme, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday, 16 June urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to listen to the voice of unemployed youths and not take their agnipareeksha (trial by fire) by making them walk on 'Agnipath' (path of fire).
"No rank, no pension, no direct recruitment for 2 years, no stable future after four years, no respect shown by the government for the army," Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi, attacking the Centre over the scheme.
In another tweet, he added, "When India faces threats on two fronts, the uncalled for Agnipath scheme reduces the operational effectiveness of our armed forces. The BJP government must stop compromising the dignity, traditions, valour, and discipline of our forces."
Meanwhile, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also hit out and urged the prime minister not to "crush the dreams of the youth".
"What will the new army recruitment scheme give them? After 4 years, no job guarantee, no pension facility = no rank, no pension," she said in Hindi.
'Scheme is Controversial, Multiple Risks': P Chidambaram
Congress leader P Chidambaram said in a statement on Thursday that the Agnipath scheme is a “controversial, carries multiple risks, subverts the long-standing traditions and ethos of the armed forces” and claimed that there is no guarantee that the soldiers recruited under the scheme will be better trained to protect the country.
Calling the Centre’s scheme a “matter of great concern”, the former finance said, “It appears to us that the scheme makes a mockery of training; inducts into the defence forces an ill-trained and ill-motivated soldier; and discharges a disappointed and unhappy ex-soldier into the society.”
He added that the age of recruitment, which 17-21 years of age, will exclude a large part of youth from serving in the Defence forces.
“Given the situation on our borders, it is imperative that we have soldiers in our defence forces who are young, well-trained, motivated, happy, satisfied and assured of their future. The Agnipath scheme does not advance any of these objectives."Chidambaram
‘A Step in the Right Direction’: Congress’ Manish Tewari
However, differing from the party opinion, Congress's Manish Tewari told NDTV that the Agnipath scheme is a "step in the right direction".
He said that the "far more important and fundamental point" of the scheme is the change in the nature of warfare over the past decades.
Tewari told NDTV, "In this day and age you need a mobile army, a younger army. You need more expenditure on technology and weaponry. That's not going to happen if you have a very big footprint on the ground and that's where the bulk of your money goes."
Tewari said that the woes of the youth regarding the new scheme is a "legitimate concern", however, he added that the armed force of the union "is not an employment guarantee programme".
'Don't Restrict the Youth's Dreams to 4 Years': Kejriwal
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too, came out in support of the defence job aspirants who are protesting the scheme and urged the ruling government give them the chance to serve the country throughout their life, not just for four years.
In a series of tweets in Hindi, the leader wrote, “The central government’s new scheme in Army recruitment is being opposed everywhere in the country. The youth are very angry. Their demands are right. The Army is the pride of our country, our youth want to give their whole life to the country, don’t restrict their dreams to 4 years."
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati also chimed in, saying that the scheme is “unfair towards rural youth”.
In a series of tweets, the former chief minister of UP added, "People in the country are already afflicted by rising poverty, inflation, unemployment, wrong policies, and arrogant working style of the government, in such a situation, the uneasiness spread among the youth regarding new recruitment system in the army is causing anxiety....The government should reconsider its decision immediately, this is the demand of BSP."
CPI(M), CPI Voice Opposition
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), and CPI also censured the government over the scheme, and demanded that it be scrapped and taken in Parliament for discussion.
CPIM general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted the party's statement on the matter on Thursday.
CPI MP Binoy Viswam, too, opposed the scheme and sought its withdrawal.
He tweeted, "It is contractualisation in Indian military, exploitation of youth through low wages, back door entry for RSS, part of militarisation, betrayal of unemployed. Military Recruitment is not kitchen recipe of BJP. Need discussion in parliament," he tweeted.
CPI general secretary, D Raja tweeted:
In a separate statement, the CPI said that any dilution in the service conditions of defence personnel, including their discipline will only harm the security and sovereignty of the country.
"Contract appointment and short-term employment after imparting full-fledged training at the cost of the exchequer will not only affect the quality of the services but also will harm the future of the trained personnel who will find it very difficult to get a suitable job," it added.
'Withdraw Your Wrong Decision': Owaisi
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi slammed the BJP on Thursday and said that the Agnipath scheme will not solve the unemployment issue of the country but will only auger it.
Owaisi tweeted that PM Modi should neither identify these protesters by their clothes nor should use bulldozers against them.
He tweeted, "Withdraw your wrong decision. 66 percent of the country's population is the youth. Understand their point."
"The scheme will not reduce unemployment but will increase it. The issue of terror with Pakistan is not resolved yet, and on the other hand China has occupied our land. Our army is not a laboratory of your 'scheme' and 'brain wave'. This plan is not in the interest of the country," Owaisi said.
Centre Should Rethink Proposed Changes: BJP Allies
Meanwhile, former Punjab chief minister, BJP ally and Army veteran Capt Amarinder Singh has advised the Centre to rethink the Agnipath scheme and questioned why the government had to make such "radical" changes for recruitment to armed forces.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Janata Dal (United) leader Bijendra Prasad Yadav and the party's parliamentary board president Upendra Kushwaha who said that the Centre should rethink on Agnipath scheme.
"The proposed changes in the recruitment process of Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force should be reconsidered," Kushwaha tweeted.
Jitan Ram Manjhi, the former chief minister of Bihar and a BJP ally, said, "Agnipath scheme is extremely dangerous for the country. It should be withdrawn immediately. I appeal to PM Narendra Modi to withdraw the Agnipath scheme and announce the old process of recruitment."
What is the Scheme?
The scheme allows for the induction of about 45,000 people aged 17.5 to 21 years into the military for a four-year period. Recruitment for the same is supposed to begin in the next 90 days, with the first wave expected to arrive in July 2023.
Furthermore, there will be a six-month training period during which they would be paid a monthly wage of Rs 30,000-40,000 as allowances. Candidates will be able to obtain insurance and medical benefits as well.
Only 25 percent of these troops will be retained after four years, and they will serve for a total of 15 years in non-officer ranks.
The remaining employees will receive a package worth between Rs 11 lakh and Rs 12 lakh when they leave the service, but they will not be eligible for pension benefits.
(With inputs from PTI.)