Attacking the government over the Agnipath scheme, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi on Friday, 17 June, alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not understand what the people of the country want as he cannot hear anything except the voice of his "friends".
In an unusual show of support, BJP leader Varun Gandhi urged Army candidates to "maintain democratic dignity" while expressing solidarity in "their struggle".
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also urged PM Modi to "immediately" withdraw the Agnipath initiative in order to prevent the country from "burning" due to the youngsters' rage.
Sharing similar sentiment, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi also hit out at the centre in a tweet and said "not even 24 hours had passed" that the BJP government had to change the rules of the new army recruitment scheme.
The Congress general secretary said that this shows that the move was made in "haste."
"Narendra Modi ji, withdraw this scheme immediately. Give appointments and put out the result of the stalled recruitment in Air Force," Priyanka Gandhi said.
"Conduct army recruitment (with age relaxation) as before," she demanded.
Meanwhile, former Union minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Sharad Yadav said on Friday, 17 June, that the Agnipath scheme is not a reform but an "attempt to damage" the existing system of recruitment in armed forces, reported PTI. He urged the Centre to "revisit" the initiative.
'Maintain Democratic Dignity': Varun Gandhi
Varun Gandhi said in a statement on Twitter that he has attempted to understand the issues of thousands of youth who have expressed their concerns about the Centre's Agnipath scheme.
He added that he has conveyed their problems in a letter to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and expressed hope that an amicable solution will be reached.
He said, "I understand that this is time of turmoil for the youth but I am speaking to you as a big brother, and with folded hands, that the most difficult of situations can be solved with peaceful dialogues."
He tweeted, "I stand with the military candidates at every step in this struggle. It is a humble request to all of you to work patiently and while maintaining 'democratic dignity', send your memorandums to the government through various means. A 'secure future' is the right of every youth! Justice will be done."
'No Rank, No Pension, No Direct Recruitment'
On Thursday, Rahul Gandhi urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to listen to the voice of the unemployed youths and not take their agnipariksha (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.
Meanwhile, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also hit out at the scheme on Thursday 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.
The Congress has demanded that the short service recruitment in the armed forces under Agnipath scheme be kept in abeyance and wider consultations be held with experts before taking further action on it.
'Insult To The Country's Army': AAP
The Aam Aadmi Party expressed support for the youth's demands but also urged demonstrators to protest in a democratic manner instead of resorting to vandalism and burning.
Sanjay Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and AAP spokesperson, announced during a press conference that his party will stage a demonstration against the scheme on Saturday across all of Uttar Pradesh's districts. He alleged that the prime minister has lowered the Indian Army's pride. "This is insult of the country's Army and the country's youth as well," Singh said.
He further claimed that the initiative was implemented to meet the need for trained security guards in private companies.
"Narendra Modi ji has brought this Agnipath scheme to benefit private companies. He wants to make Army his private agency, a training centre for security guards," he added.
Aam Aadmi Party leader and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann also demanded the scrapping of the scheme.
"We can't keep soldiers on rent. How can we make them ex-soldiers merely at age of 21? They protect the country in harsh conditions. Politicians never retire, it's only soldiers, public who retire...We don't need military on rent. Agnipath scheme must be taken back," ANI quoted Mann as saying.
In a tweet, the leader termed the scheme, which guarantees no pension to the aspirants, an 'insult to the army' and said that the public anger was the result of a decision taken without thinking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In response to the scheme, many in Bihar's Muzaffarpur and Buxar, Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow, and in parts of Rajasthan, as well as youth in at least six other states took to protesting, burning tyres, blocking highways and railway tracks to protest.
Following severe resistance, the government on Thursday, increased the upper-age limit for recruitment under the Agnipath scheme to 23 years from 21 years for the year 2022.
(With inputs from PTI.)