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How Modi Govt’s Agniveer Scheme Is Forcing India’s Youth To Seek Jobs Abroad

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi recently reiterated his party's stand to scrap the scheme if voted to power.

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(This is part two of the author's dispatch from his travels around the state of Uttar Pradesh ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections. Read the part one here.)

Shyam was one of the karsevaks in a crowd of protestors who were accused of bringing down the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on 6 December 1992. Seemingly, a staunch supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), his disenchantment has grown with both the Uttar Pradesh government of Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “My son is without a job. Who will help him get one," he wailed.

Recently, his son had excitedly told him that he could go to Israel to work as many of his friends had responded to the government’s partnership with Israel to recruit workers to send them in place of Palestinians as they were no longer trusted. Only Hindus were to be sent for this job.

"I refused as I did not want him to go to any area where the war was raging,” explained Shyam.

According to him, about 8000 youths had gone to Israel to be bricklayers and do other odd jobs in place of Palestinians.
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How the Iran-Israel Conflict Impacted Indians’ Job Prospects Abroad

These numbers seem a bit inflated as media reports had suggested that UP’s quota was around 3000 only, but this illusion may have something to do with how the absorption of a small number of young men may seem big in the absence of many job opportunities.

Since then, even this window seems to have temporarily closed after Iran sent hundreds of drones to Israel on 13 April to avenge the killing of several of its Quds commanders in Damascus – compelling the Ministry of External Affairs to issue an advisory against any Indian travelling to Israel and Iran.

This was a setback for Indians who were looking for jobs – even if they were in war zones in labour-scarce countries. This is more so after the government introduced the Agniveer scheme that offers only a short-term 4-year job to those who want to join the Army.
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Only 25 percent of the 30-40,000 Agniveers will be permanently absorbed. This is a big drop from the 80,000-odd youth that joined the Army in 2019 – the last time full recruitment had taken place.

That is the reason why the youth are in ferment and looking for jobs elsewhere. Are they also angry enough to bring about a change in the government? We would know only on 4 June.

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What Explains the Desperation of Indians To Join the Foreign Army?

Before Israel, many of them had willingly gone to help Russia and Ukraine fight their respective wars. Bizarrely, a Russian official had told this writer that innumerable Indians had reached out to their offices in Moscow to enquire about how they could join their Army.

This bewildered writer asked this official, "Why should the Indians fight for Russians?” His reply was succinct. “For money as we pay very well." According to him, it was about Rs 2 lakhs per month, and depending on the kind of operation they are involved in, they get more incentives and allowances.” Besides, after finishing the contract, the Indian mercenaries also get loans for setting up businesses as well as offers of residency. "How can a youth or his family ignore such a job offer,” said an Indian MEA official who did not want to be named.

Besides, Indians find nothing really wrong with fighting for Russians and Ukrainians or vice versa.

"It’s possible that many of those who prefer to join the Russian Army may be Agniveer aspirants and they could even be descendants of those who fought alongside the British in the First or the Second World War. Why should they find anything wrong in fighting alongside the Russians, Ukrainians, or even Israelis? Neither of these countries have been declared as enemies of India,” explained a government official.

“As long as they do not join those that are perceived as India’s enemy like Pakistanis or Taliban, nothing really objectionable with that. I am confident that even their parents would not allow them to make money fighting for the enemy."

Since the exposure of Indians to the Russian Army, a few have returned, but many reportedly continue.

The fact that the families are forced to make such grim choices – whether to send their son to dangerous theatres of war – suggests how difficult life has become for an average middle-class parent. Their dilemma was exacerbated by bank loans that they took to fund higher education for his or her children, in the hope that a good job would help repay it.

It’s a travesty that confronts millions of parents in rural and small-town India who dare to dream big for their children.

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How Youth Unemployment Impacts the Nation’s Future

Nearly all the figures that emerge even from the fudged ecosystem that the government has created suggest that the egregious job situation is casting a dark shadow not just on the outcome of the elections, but even country’s much-vaunted demographic dividend.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), India’s youth unemployment has been inordinately high for a fast-growing economy. In 2022, it was 23.33 percent. The tragedy was that the chances of young remaining without a job increased when they studied more.

Economists like Santosh Mehrotra have warned incessantly about how, in the absence of concrete manufacturing and employment strategy, the youth may have little to look forward to as they will just end up fattening the ranks of the unemployed.
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Worse the government has failed to make an example of those who repeatedly leak the examination paper of competitive examinations thus, denying the frustrated young people an opportunity to break free from the shackles of unemployment.

Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, have seen dozens of papers of competitive exams leaked without really finding a way to stop it conclusively. Some educationists are of the view that a section of the bureaucracy may be complicit in these leaks as they do not have jobs to offer.

The pitiful state of the youth comes across in hundreds of YouTube videos that tell the story of suffering and deprivation. Many of them live in the cities endlessly hoping that eventually fortune will smile on them and they will clear the examination and get a government job and finally a bride or a groom of their choice.
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It’s a fact that after announcing the short-term Agniveer scheme, many young men aspiring for an Army job ceased to present an attractive option in the job market. It’s a kind of suffering that cannot be recounted easily by parents like Shyam who want them to stand on their own feet.

In his opinion, the failure to provide jobs would weigh heavily on the BJP government. "Take it from me. If this government loses then it will be due to the curse of parents like me,” said a despondent Shyam.

(The author is the editor of Delhi's Hardnews magazine. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Narendra Modi   Israel   Unemployment 

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