If someone tells you that Russia and Brazil recruits soldiers on conscription-basis for a period of just one year or Israel and South Korea does so for 30 months and 21 months respectively for all their three services, you will criticise India for not replicating this and would want it to happen as soon as possible. In addition to regular recruitment, we also have Technical Graduate entries, Territorial Army and then NCC, from where we get good officers to serve the nation and defend our borders, coasts and air space.
Now that the Union Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done it through India’s ace scheme “Agnipath” after consultations with our serving officers and veterans besides stakeholders, there is a huge hue and cry without actually understanding the matter. This quick reaction and its repercussions are indeed not in good taste despite the fact that the recruitment age limit has been increased to the satisfaction of youth. We need a young force to defend borders and there couldn’t be anything better than this scheme, which is though not compulsory but is highly encouraging.
Here both, the defence forces as well as the youth are going to be in a win-win situation. While the Army, Air Force and Navy will get young fighters besides saving a lot of money, the youth will be able to learn the fighting techniques. The defence forces also won’t have to go for special and emergency recruitment at the time of war. While the youth, who in the age group of 17-and-a-half years to twenty-one keep looking for good jobs, will get to don olive uniforms, the defence forces will have the best of cadets at their disposal to choose from for the permanent commission.
Similarly, while the youth will retire well within a time frame after getting their Agniveer Skill Certificates, they will continue to have age on their side for applying for any other job in the government or the private sector. There are many industries, corporate houses and start-ups which prefer to handover their entire operations to ex-servicemen, knowingly that they are disciplined, hardworking and honest to the core to execute any given task without questioning the authority. Hence, when the Agniveers will complete their tenure with Army, Air Force or Navy, they will be the preferred choice of corporate houses for engagements.
Financially speaking, the Agniveers will be having a substantial amount of money in their accounts at the end of their tenure coupled with their experience and patriotism, that will give them an edge over other candidates while applying for other jobs. This move will also end the demand of making Army training compulsory for youngsters, though this is an open choice.
This is just a speculation and underestimation of the Army training which goes on flawless while producing finest officers or recruits. Another best thing about the scheme is that enrolment under this scheme will be all-India and all-class, and will form a distinct rank in the armed forces, besides having unique badges. We have seen youngsters at the behest of some forces which are inimical to peace opposing this scheme and destroying public property. In a short span from now on, when the recruitment will begin, we will also see thousands of youth lining up outside recruitment offices to become Agniveers, which will establish that young minds are ready to serve the nation, showing their will to work instead of sitting idle.
In the initial stage, the government intends to recruit about 46,000 soldiers under the scheme this year and these Agniveers engaged for four years will soon be drawing a salary of Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 per month besides allowances as applicable. While the opposition will continue to oppose the scheme without applying its mind, getting into the details, understanding the needs of the youngsters and the country’s changing profile that is going on in sync with world bodies, these young Agniveers would have completed half of their tenure encouraging more to join the services.
Sensing the credentials of Agniveers, the government also intends to enroll 25 percent from each batch in the regular cadre of the armed forces after their four-year service duration. These Agniveers will also be posted to any regiment, unit and establishment and would be entitled to honours and awards under the extant guidelines on the subject. Their post-release ‘Seva Nidhi Package’ is going to be worked out to nearly Rs 12 lakhs tax free money and a non-contributory insurance cover of Rs 48 lakhs besides optional facility to get bank loan of Rs 18.2 lakhs.
Since this training is not mandatory for all the youth, those willing to show their patriotism, serve the nation, earn credentials for future employment and wear the uniform are most welcome to apply for the service. The remaining can continue with their plans or studies, but damaging public property is absolutely a highly condemnable act. I have seen lakhs of young boys and girls trying to get into the Indian Army, Air Force or Navy through SSB, Technical entry, Sainik Schools, Territorial Army or other modes, which establish that their will to serve the nation is stronger than such kind of opposition.
Coming to the shortcomings, if there are suggestions of enhancing the period of the contract beyond four years, absorption beyond 25 per cent or recruitment in other state belt forces, the same can be worked out with the passage of time. Let a good beginning be made and any speculations or apprehentions either good or bad about the scheme must be stopped. Those suggesting contributory pension schemes must know that many banks offer such schemes which the recruits can opt for. The best part of this scheme is that the nation is going to get a young force to defend our borders.
Those who are apprehending that these Agniveers won’t be able to handle sophisticated arms and ammunition are actually undermining their own training personnel and academies and also the young Indians who are ready to serve the nation at all costs. For such critics, only time will tell how many will rally at recruitment centres and how many will man borders in the most effective manner. Mark my words that while states like UP, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttarakhand have seen violent protests over the scheme, these very states will become the biggest contributors in the Agnipath scheme.
A last word for those doubting the credentials or patriotism of Agniveers; our youth is not corrupt and most importantly, we are going to have a younger force which will be physically fit, diverse, well-versed with technologies and ready to live and die for the nation. So, instead of discouraging them or criticising the government for the sake of criticism, let us respect the spirit of those who will become our future warriors. Let’s salute them for defending our nation within the given resources, which matters more than any amount of money or emoluments because becoming an AGNIVEER is not everyone’s cup of tea.
(The writer is Bharatiya Janata Party J&K Executive Member)