Monday Musings: Why Maharashtra has been silent on Agnipath scheme?

During his address at the 56th foundation day celebration of Shiv Sena, its head Uddhav Thackeray launched a scathing attack on the central government over the ‘Agnipath’ scheme calling it a mirage.
Members of Pune Youth Congress held a protest against Agnipath scheme at BJP office in Pune, on Saturday. (HT PHOTO)
Members of Pune Youth Congress held a protest against Agnipath scheme at BJP office in Pune, on Saturday. (HT PHOTO)
Published on Jun 20, 2022 04:34 PM IST
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PUNE During his address at the 56th foundation day celebration of Shiv Sena, its head Uddhav Thackeray launched a scathing attack on the central government over the ‘Agnipath’ scheme calling it a mirage. In the scheme, people between the ages of 17.5 and 21 years will be recruited into the military service of their choice for four years.

Thackeray, who is also Chief Minister of Maharashtra, said the state has largely been silent when some other parts of India are witnessing violent protests. “But do not provoke Maharashtra to erupt,” Thackeray said.

Be it farmers’ protest or current outrage over the new scheme introduced by the Centre, Maharashtra stayed calm. It’s not that Maharashtra doesn’t send its men to the Armed Forces. The young men from Maharashtra love their country as much as other states and are often eager to serve the nation in whichever way possible.

Many villages in Western Maharashtra, Marathwada, Konkan and parts of Vidarbha are known to have produced soldiers, some of them made supreme sacrifice while serving the nation.

For the past two years, many of these young men have been preparing hard even as Covid-19 has prevented holding recruitment drives for non-officer ranks since 2020.

There are coaching centres in Maharashtra helping these youngsters to prepare for defence recruitment. But they are not on a scale as in states like Bihar, Andhra Pradesh Telangana or Uttar Pradesh. The violence in these states has put the lens on the role of private training centres as police there suspect that coaching institutes that prepare youth for recruitment into the armed forces are behind the violent protests against the scheme.

It is also not because most aspirants preparing for Army recruitment – Army recruits most youngsters compared to Air Force or Navy – have endorsed the scheme. There is opposition to Agnipath in Maharashtra too.

But it has not spilt onto the streets yet and is unlikely to happen on a scale that Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or other parts of the Hindi heartland has seen.

One of the key reasons states like Maharashtra have largely remained silent is that the employment generation here through private players is better than in the Hindi heartland. That is not to say Maharashtra’s employment model is all too perfect. Its heavily lopsided and most jobs are concentrated within the Pune-Mumbai-Nashik belt. However, those aspiring to join the Armed forces can have multiple opportunities available within the state when they leave the service at the age of 25 or 27.

Those not been able to acquire skills and feel left out have often turned to agriculture post their fixed - 15 years tenure in the service. Take for example Apshinge, a village of around 3,000 from Satara, where almost every household has seen its members serve in the Armed Forces. The village is backing the Agnipath scheme. There are other such villages like Sainik Takli in Kolhapur, which also has a long history with Armed Forces, and the perception there is largely in favour of the scheme.

In the report that Hindustan Times published on Sunday, many of those men from Apshinge in Western Maharashtra who retired from the service said they returned to their village and are “happily” engaged in farming activity.

Whether it’s Western Maharashtra or Marathwada, these regions are also known for the sugarcane produce. They were largely silent against the farm laws last year when other parts were witnessing outrage. One reason, the region did not see protests was because sugarcane is a cash crop, for which the three laws were not directly applicable, given that farmers have to sell their produce to the nearby sugar factories.

At the same time, the highly institutionalised cooperatives engaged in the sugar sector, along with firms owned by farmers who purchase the agriculture produce, had largely kept the farmers assured about rates.

This has largely kept rural unrest in check even during the year when rain is not adequate. This time when the agitation is about the new reform, many in Maharashtra feel it’s a scheme that will destroy some of the jobs and should be amended. But they also know that cash in hand (of a few lakhs of rupees) while leaving the service is not that bad to start afresh with a self-employment opportunity.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Yogesh Joshi is Assistant Editor at Hindustan Times. He covers politics, security, development and human rights from Western Maharashtra.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022