The Agnipath scheme is a transformational reform for the army and the nation that was long overdue. The Kargil War Commission had way back in 1999 recommended the need to drastically reduce the overall average age of the armed forces and Agnipath seeks to do precisely that, besides of course bringing a paradigm shift in the human resource management of the Indian army. The ‘Agnipath’ allows patriotic and motivated youth to serve in the armed forces for a period of 4 years. A youthful profile of the Army will provide a fresh lease of ‘Josh and Jazba’ while bringing about a transformational shift towards a more technical savvy armed forces, which is the need of the hour. There will not be any compromise on the standards that the armed forces apply in ensuring the minimum physical, medical and professional parameters for new recruits.
During the implementation and stabilisation of the scheme, the army’s operational capabilities and preparedness will be fully maintained. The army will continue to retain its rich legacy, history, traditions, military values and culture, based on the principles of cohesiveness, camaraderie, Esprit-de-Corps and the core ethos of “Naam, Namak and Nishan”. It is envisaged that the average age profile of Indian Armed forces would come down from 32 years to 26 years, by implementation of this scheme. The dividends of a short military service to the nation, society and the youth of the nation are immense. This includes inculcation of patriotism, team work, enhancement of physical fitness, ingrained loyalty for the country and availability of trained personnel to boost national security in times of external threats, internal threats and natural disasters.
After the end of the term, they will be able to apply for permanent jobs in the armed forces, and 25% of them will be inducted. After the four-year service period, Agniveers who are not absorbed in regular commission will be paid a one-time ‘SevaNidhi’ package amounting to Rs 11.71 Lakh. They will also get preference in PSUs, and State Governments’ jobs, and State and Central police forces. While the opposition parties and even some army veterans have criticised the scheme, the fact is that such short service for soldiers was suggested over two decades ago, in the Kargil Review Committee report.
The committee had also recommended an integrated manpower policy for armed forces, para-military forces and the Central police forces. The report had further said, “The Army must be young and fit at all times. Therefore, instead of the present practice of having 17 years of colour service (as has been the policy since 1976), it would be advisable to reduce the colour service to a period of seven to ten years and, thereafter, release these officers and men for service in the country’s para-military formations.”
The committee formed after the Kargil war had suggested that after the end of the service period, they can be absorbed in regular police forces or in a “National Service Corps (or a National Conservation Corps), as provided for under Article 5 lA(d) of the Constitution, to spearhead a range of land and water conservation and physical and social infrastructure development.” The committee had observed that this will reduce the age profile of the army and the paramilitary forces and also reduce pension costs and other entitlements such as married quarters and educational facilities. In this year’s budget, Rs 5.25 lakh crore has been allocated for defence, out of which roughly Rs 1.2 lakh crore is allocated for pensions which means, almost 23% of defence budget is spent on retirement benefits alone.
The army pension has gone up sharply after the implementation of the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme. While cost reduction is just a byproduct of the Agnipath scheme,why should anyone have a problem with cost cutting, as long as the quality of our forces is not compromised? Also, spending disproportionately on pension means that very little is left for modernisation including procurement of modern arms and equipment systems. Under Agnipath scheme, candidates between the age of 17.5 years and 21 years will be recruited as Angiveers, and as they will serve for only 4 years, the maximum age of an Angiveer will be 25 years. Thus, the soldiers will remain young and fit in their entire term of service.
While 25% of the Agniveers recruited under Agnipath scheme will be absorbed into regular commission and promoted to higher ranks based on merit and service criteria, the rest 75% will be given preference in govt and PSU jobs. Apart from State and Central police forces, the retired Agniveers will also be a valuable manpower in Central and State disaster response forces and similar jobs requiring physical fitness. Those who wish to work will be given priority in CAPFs, police, Assam Rifles and police and allied forces in several States. So while 75% of the youth will no longer be with the army after 4 years of service, they will certainly find gainful employment in various spheres in the government and private sector. Around 45000 to 50000 Agniveers will be recruited every year, which means a substantial savings in pensions under the under Agnipath scheme.The amount saved could in turn be used for enhancing capital expenditure in the defence sector, rather than spending on revenue expenditure alone.
Not just the Kargil committee, the Indian army had also proposed a recruitment scheme similar to Agnipath to save on manpower cost. In 2020, the army had proposed a “tour of duty” (TOD) scheme to recruit youth for 3 years, instead of 17 years currently. 10% reservation of jobs for Agniveers in Indian Coast Guard, Defence Civilian posts & 16 DPSUs for those meeting requisite eligibility criteria has been announced. The 16 Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) are Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML), Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) Limited, Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL), Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL), Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders (MDL), Mishra Dhatu Nigam (Midhani) Limited, Armoured Vehicles Nigam Limited (AVNL), Advanced Weapons & Equipment India Ltd. (AW&EIL), Munitions India Limited (MIL), Yantra India Limited (YIL), Gliders India Limited (GIL), India Optel Limited (IOL) and Troop Comforts Limited (TCL). This reservation would be in addition to existing reservations for ex-servicemen. Necessary amendments to relevant recruitment rules will be undertaken to implement these provisions. Necessary age relaxation provisions will also be made.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has decided to reserve 10% vacancies for recruitment in CAPFs and Assam Rifles for Agniveers, completing four years under the Agnipath Scheme.The MHA also decided to give a 3 year age relaxation beyond the prescribed upper age limit, to Agniveers for recruitment in CAPFs & Assam Rifles. Further, for the first batch of Agniveers, the age relaxation will be for 5 years beyond the prescribed upper age limit. The Ministry of Ports, Shipping & Waterways (MoPSW) has announced 6 attractive service opportunities for Agniveers from Indian Navy, for smooth transition into the highly skilled and remunerative Merchant Navy.These schemes for Agniveers include transition from Ratings in Indian Navy to Certified Ratings in Merchant Navy, transition from Electrical Ratings in Indian Navy to Certified Electro Technical Ratings in Merchant Navy, transition from Ratings in Indian Navy to Certified Class IV-NCV CoC holder in Merchant Navy, transition from Electrical Ratings in Indian Navy to Certified Electro Technical Officers in Merchant Navy and transition from Cook in Indian Navy to Certified Cook Merchant Navy.
“This is a reform which is much-needed and is a reform in the right direction,” Congress leader Manish Tewari said, in a clear defiance of the jaded Congress Party, whose leaders have been making vile and derogatory statements about the scheme, displaying rabid ignorance. Whatsapp chats revealed a plot to stoke violence in Kanpur over Agnipath scheme. Chalo chowki phoonk dete hain (let’s burn down the police station),read one of the messages of the WhatsApp group, demonstrating how social media and chat apps were used by rioters to mobilise support and plan for violence in the name of protest against the Agnipath scheme.The WhatsApp group wherein these kinds of inflammatory messages were circulated was named ‘Boycott TOD.’ Audio messages revealed that a complex, pre-planned strategy was hatched to foment violence at the Secunderabad railway station over Agnipath Scheme. The fact that large scale riots replete with arson, looting, vandalism, setting trains on fire, ransacking buses and unfettered destruction of public property, under the guise of protests, coincided with the ongoing interrogation of Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, in the National Herald scam, makes one wonder if these protests were even organic, to start with?
What makes the rioting even more condemnable is the fact that the said protesters were supposedly army aspirants! Will an army aspirant intimidate women and children and set train bogeys on fire? No. So quite clearly, Agnipath is just another excuse for “Breaking India” forces and an electorally vanquished opposition, to hold the country to ransom, driven by nothing but visceral hatred for PM Modi, who remains the tallest statesman both locally and globally.
Defence and military reforms always run the risk of early triumphalism, undermining long-term change. But with Agnipath, like with OROP or the decision to go ahead with the Rafale deal despite scathing pressure to back off, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown he is made of far sterner stuff than what he is credited with . Modi’s Agnipariksha started in 2014 and continues till date but each time he has only emerged much stronger, because “India First”,has always been his guiding ethos.
The Indian military is currently undergoing a fundamental transformation. These changes are made possible primarily due to the creation, in December 2019, of the post of a chief of defence (CDS) staff by the Modi government, with Gen. Bipin Rawat appointed as the first CDS, also making him the head of a newly created Department of Military Affairs. General Rawat, who died in a chopper crash in 2021,had also been given an ambitious mandate to create joint theater commands. This pleasantly surprised military reformists, with Adm. Arun Prakash calling it “the most significant development in the national security domain since Independence.” The Dept. of Military Affairs, perhaps without parallel among democracies, was created to address longstanding complaints against the civilian bureaucracy. Accordingly, 23 sections along with 160 civilian staff were transferred to this office — empowering the CDS on issues pertaining to officer promotions, defense planning, and inter-services prioritization, among others.
Theaterization refers to placing units from the army, navy and/or air force under one commander. Again, the exact contours of joint theaters and its command arrangement would only be clear in a couple of years, but these debates indicate a potentially massive restructuring, which only a fearlessly progressive leader like PM Modi had the gumption, to undertake
The Indian military, the world’s fourth largest, has a proud tradition of being under firm civilian control. To be sure, there were some reforms after the 1999 Kargil War. However, structural weaknesses remained. It did not help that, in the ten years of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s tenure (2004–2014), defence reforms were not a priority and civil-military relations were reportedly not at their very best. Going by data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India has the distinction of being among the world’s largest arms importer over the last four decades. Under the “self-sufficient India” (Aatmanirbhar Bharat) initiative, the Modi government has, in a very public way, prioritized defence production. Despite opposition from labor unions, the government has boldly gone ahead with politically contentious issues like the corporatization of ordnance factories. Perhaps the biggest achievement has been a mindset change engineered within the military and in the defense industry, toward working harmoniously with each other. Now these stakeholders are encouraged to work together and the private sector is no longer imagined as a den of vice. The government has also pushed the defence industry to focus on exports, which, according to one count, has grown by over 700% from 2016 to 2019, alone.The third element of transformation is in the field of military diplomacy. Previous Congress regimes in New Delhi were hesitant, and unsure, about the proper place of military in foreign policy, with the military, left second-guessing its roles and priorities. However, under the Modi government, the Indian military is more open to engaging with its counterparts and like-minded partners, whether with the Quad countries or further afield.
In the final analysis, the Agnipath scheme is certainly well thought-out. As the service chiefs pointed out, this was in discussion for almost two years and thereafter it has come, after deliberations with all key stakeholders. The main objective is to make the forces leaner and fitter and give youth a possibility to serve the country and when they come out after four years, their employment opportunities increase because they are well trained and disciplined. If the scheme is well thought-out, why are there so many widespread protests? The simple answer is, there is a pattern whereby suddenly a group of a well-organised set of people, politically aligned and with support from political parties that have been unable to defeat the BJP at the hustings, go into war mode in terms of rioting and arson and spreading disinformation. No sane minded Indian, much less an army aspirant, will ever indulge in hooliganism or vandalism. Hence,it is clear these protests are by mala-fide elements, sponsored by their political bosses to run amok. These protests are not about Agnipath but part of a larger agenda to defame the PM and of course the country. Agnipath scheme is in fact, a win-win for the armed forces and for those who want to serve the armed forces. So, rolling back something which is a win-win for all, goes against every grain of logic. Hence a rollback is not on the cards, much as people like an ignorant Rahul Gandhi may rant mindlessly against this scheme. Serving the armed forces, whether for a short duration or a long duration, is an act of valour, an act of nation-building and an opportunity for the youth to serve their country. Let’s not forget that there has been the Short Service Commission that has existed in the army, which was never for the full tenure in any case. So why this hue and cry now about a 4 year tenure? The Congress Chief ministers of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have alleged that unemployed, frustrated youth, post training could become a severe law and order headache in the future.
Well, such speculative comments can only come from a Party that even had the gall to question the valour of our soldiers in Balakot and the Surgical strikes! So those who have never trusted our armed forces, will not understand the value of those who serve the armed forces. It is very unfortunate coming from these two Congress Chief Ministers who have left their constitutional obligation of serving the people of their States and decided to rally around a leader (Rahul Gandhi), on whom there are grave corruption charges and who is being currently investigated by the ED. Allegations that, Agnipath has been launched only because no jobs were created, by the Modi government in the last 8 years, is the biggest false narrative peddled by a rattled Opposition. Over Rs 18.6 lakh Cr has been given to 34.42 Cr entities, via PM Mudra Yojana, creating over 3.4 million self-reliant and self employed people. Mudra Yojana in fact,has the unique distinction of being the world’s largest self employment generating scheme. Also, Agnipath is about imparting skill sets, discipline, nationalist fervour and can’t be seen only from the prism of employment. How many 22 year olds can boast of 4 years of world class training in one of the world’s most reputed institutions, UGC acknowledged skill certification, a kitty of Rs 11.71 lakh at the end of 4 years, insurance cover of Rs 48 lakh and access to education and bank loans at highly concessional rates? Hence, Agnipath is primarily about those who wish to serve their motherland, get world class training and skill sets in the process, get monetary benefits too and at the end of 4 years, emerge as a stronger, more self reliant and disciplined set of individuals who can take on the world, with ample opportunities that are in store and the irrevocable stamp of having served in the Indian Army. The stamp of having served in one of the world’s largest and most credible forces has countless tangible and intangible benefits. For Agniveers, the world is their oyster!
Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’.