Flag Officer Commanding in Chief, Vice Admiral Ajendra Bahadur Singh, on June 15, hailed the Prime Minister’s Agnipath announcement for giving an opportunity to youths to serve the armed forces. “The first set of Agniveers is all set to enroll in the next six months. Selected youngsters will undergo basic 16 weeks’ training, followed by two weeks of sea training. The Indian Navy will give equal opportunity to men and women who meet the eligibility criteria,” said Vice Admiral Ajendra Singh.

The aim is to recruit a younger, fit and motivated diverse profile of both men and women to face future challenges. It is envisaged that with the scheme’s implementation, the average age profile of the Indian armed forces would come down by about four to five years.

Vice Admiral Singh further said, “The Ministry of Home Affairs will give priority to Agniveers who complete four years under Agnipath in recruitment of Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles. Indian Navy will induct up to 25 per cent of the best Agniveers in the regular services after their tenure. We would get a ready trained pool of youth who would easily fit in the navy,” Singh added.

Critics have, however, raised concerns over the high number of weapons-trained youth getting unemployed after completion of four years. “Imagine the unemployed weapons-trained youth taking up arms against the state after completion. Don’t forget the unemployed jawans after retirement at 35 picked up arms in Punjab and took to terrorism,” cautioned Kargil veteran Major Vikram Bakshi.

Another critic of the scheme, retired naval commander Pradeep Singh scoffed at the Bollywood-inspired name Agnipath. “It is indicative of a deeper problem in our thinking about the defence of India. More men, especially less trained ones, will not help India win future wars. A technologically sophisticated, better equipped leaner military is what India needs,” averred retired naval officer Pradeep Singh.

The Telegraph (June 19) has mentioned some pent-up grievances and fears. Some of them are:

Joblessness and the sense of insecurity, for one (“We are unemployed now, we will be unemployed again after four years if selected under Agnipath; we won’t be able to take care of our families”).

The economic distress that has devastated the working class, for another (“My father’s income has fallen in recent years; after four years, will he have to take care of me again?”)

Frustration had also been building at the government’s perceived authoritarianism (“Why didn’t they consult the youth before announcing the scheme”).

A wiry teen, whose young shoulders seemed stooped with the weight of anxiety and hopelessness, said: “I shall turn 19 next month. My father runs a small grocery and has taken care of the family till now.”

“Things haven’t been going well for the last few years. Customers go to the malls or shop online just for a little bit of discount. My father cannot afford to keep educating us forever. I decided to join the army so that my younger brother and sister could study,” the teen, who has passed his Class XII boards, said.

“It was like a thunderbolt strike on me and people like us. Just four years of service and then back to square one? What would I do after that? Do we live just for ourselves; don’t we have families to look after? The government is so insensitive,” he said.

The government offering a one-time relaxation of the upper age limit for recruitment, from 21 years to 23 does not seem to stem the rage of youth.

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