The central government has launched the Agnipath scheme for recruitment to the armed forces. This is the government’s first experiment with its Fixed Term Employment (FTI) policy. Under the Agnipath scheme, soldiers would be recruited for a fixed period of four years. The FTI policy was cleared by Parliament in 2018. The then minister for labour, Santosh Gangwar, had piloted the bill through Parliament. Thus, the groundwork for launching an Agnipath-like scheme was laid five years ago. The Agnipath scheme has drawn wide criticism, especially in north India. Like in the case of the now-withdrawn farm laws, the Union Government, BJP-led state governments, the party’s MPs and MLAs, chiefs of the armed forces and the military brass are singing paeans to the scheme. What do residents of rural areas think about the scheme? Forward Press spoke with residents of a dozen villages in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj (Allahabad) district. Fearful of government reprisal, most of them shared their thoughts on the condition of anonymity. No names, no pictures, they insisted.
Let us begin with Pali village. Many youths from here have joined the army over the past couple of years. You can see young men running in the mornings and the evenings. Six youngsters from the village are serving in the army – three of them are from the Dalit Pasi caste, two are Yadavs and one is a Kurmi. Their names are Santosh Bharatiya, Praveen Bharatiya, Dileep Bharatiya, Arvind Yadav and Kishan Patel. Two soldiers from the Thakur community have recently taken voluntary retirement from the army. Sunderlal*, the father of one of the serving soldiers, said that they own a small piece of farmland. “We used to do tenant farming for a living. Poverty was a permanent guest at our home. My middle son began preparing for the army recruitment test after passing high school. He joined the army. The condition of our home improved. Had he got employment only for four years, I don’t think I could have built my own house and married off my daughters. Training takes a year. What is the use of a job that lasts three years?” he said.
Bhullar Bharatiya*, the father of another army man says, “With each passing day, week and month, the retirement date will draw closer and the soldier will feel more and more insecure. How would an insecure person ensure the security of his country and his people? A person who risks his life, who has to face bullets, doesn’t he deserve at least a secure job?”
Sonu Sonkar, Shashi Bhushan Mishra, Rajneesh Mishra, Pushkar Mishra, Akhilesh Mishra and Ambuj Mishra of the Masika Naini village are in the army. Sarvanand Mishra* of the village says it is wrong to curtail the service period of soldiers to four years. However, Rajiv Yadav, who comes from a prosperous family of Dalapur village, supports the scheme saying that it would give an opportunity to more people to serve the nation. He says that Harendra Yadav, Dharmendra Kumar Yadav and Kaushlendra Yadav from the village are in the army. Shashikant Yadav* of Jhanjhari Gram Sabha is preparing for the army recruitment test. He says that the people of his village are opposed to Agnipath. Many youngsters from the village had joined the protests against the scheme at Prayagraj. He said that one Thakur and two Yadav boys from the village are serving in the army.
Priyamani Shukla* of Chilauda says that five boys from the village are in the army. One of them is a Sonkar, another is a Chaurasia. The remaining three are Dalits or OBCs. When asked about the Agnipath scheme, Suryamani expresses his disappointment. “Army was the only institution which provided a government job to the children of the farmers and the poor. No bribe had to be paid and one didn’t have to be highly educated. This was a boon for the children of economically, socially and culturally backward families. But the government’s new policy has deprived them of this opportunity. People of all castes are angered by this decision,” he said.
Arvind Yadav from Sundarpur is in the army. Suraj Yadav* from the same village is livid about Agnipath. He says, “Why shouldn’t this rule apply to our MPs, MLAs and ministers, too? Narendra Modi should immediately quit as prime minister. He was a chief minister for 13 years and has held onto the prime ministership for eight years now. He should give others an opportunity to serve the nation.”
Shivpujan Yadav of Belwa Barethi and Jaisingh Yadav and Raju Yadav of Bhulaikapura are also in the army. Rajesh Mishra of Baraiharakh has taken voluntary retirement from the army. He said Sunil Patel, Ajay Patel, Guddu Mishra and Shyam Narayan Mishra from his village are serving in the army. Rajesh Mishra has no complaints about the Agnipath scheme. “Not everyone can become a soldier. Twenty-five per cent of the recruits will be absorbed in the army. The remaining 75 per cent should be happy that they are at least getting to serve for four years,” he said.
Ramesh Chaurasia* is from Chidoda and is preparing for the army recruitment test. He terms the Agnipath scheme, which seeks to turn soldiers into Agniveers, as “utter rubbish”. “Every six months or so, we get to know that an army man has been caught leaking military secrets to an enemy nation. An insecure future will propel Agniveers towards such unethical and immoral practices,” he says.
*Names have been changed.
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)
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