Agnipath is a pivotal reform for India’s youth

BySujan Chinoy
Jun 19, 2022 10:29 PM IST

The scheme envisages the role of Agniveers as the backbone of combat units, paving the way for a combat-effective force, while also prioritising the resettlement of demobilised Agniveers

The Agnipath scheme rolled out by the government has been welcomed by the armed forces. They have played an instrumental role in its conception. The defence minister and the top brass of the three services have gone to great lengths to elaborate the scope and content of the path-breaking reform. The government has subsequently announced support measures for Agniveers – including 10% reservation in the Coast Guard, defence Public Sector Units (PSUs), Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles, age relaxation in the first year, preference in state police recruitment, and enhancement of their educational abilities and employability.

The scheme will be open to men and women and their intake will be decided by the armed forces in keeping with their own needs and assessments. (AP Photo) PREMIUM
The scheme will be open to men and women and their intake will be decided by the armed forces in keeping with their own needs and assessments. (AP Photo)

In a democracy, there are bound to be differing perspectives on major transformative changes. However, incidents of arson and violence are condemnable and appear to be instigated by vested interests and a deliberate misinformation campaign. There are millions of Indian youth who do not make it to the armed forces through the regular recruitment process, and yet, they have never engaged in vandalism in the past.

Veterans have always played a constructive role in shaping the debates around defence and national security. One expects them to support their colleagues who now occupy the same positions of responsibility that they once did. Contrary to apprehensions expressed by some members of the strategic community, Agnipath is still akin to a pilot project, given the limited numbers that will be recruited initially. Moreover, the defence minister has the complete authority to make further refinements in the scheme.

Agniveers will enter service with better technical skills, given their background in institutes such as the Industrial Training Institutions and National Skills Qualifications Framework. This is important in view of the growing sophistication of the weapons systems operated by the armed forces. The majority of the relatively younger Agniveers will be free of family responsibilities. Under pressure to perform their best to make the transition to the regular stream, they will be highly motivated. An emphasis on merit for retention will help promote professionalism. The scheme envisages that our armed forces will eventually have 50% Agniveers. Alongside the experienced regulars, they will form the backbone of the combat units.

Concerns that repeated assessments of Agniveers will bog down the Commanding Officers (COs) of units are equally ill-founded. The existing practice is that all units, under the guidance of their COs, are required to undertake regular reviews of non-commissioned officers and junior commissioned officers for promotions. The assessment process for Agniveers will be no different.

The existing training infrastructure will be adequate. The shorter training period of six months will make it possible to run two training cycles in a single calendar year and, in fact, free up existing capacities.

It was repeatedly proved during World War II as well as after the 1962 debacle with China that emergency commissions or short service commissions, respectively, had no limiting effect on motivation or raw courage in action. Most of the gallantry awardees in war and peacetime have a very youthful profile. Hence, the more youthful the armed forces are, the better.

The government and the armed forces have clarified that the highest priority will be attached to the resettlement of demobilised Agniveers. They will be provided multiple opportunities to embark on new careers. Apart from financial packages through the Seva Nidhi scheme, bank loans will be provided to those who wish to become entrepreneurs; others, who wish to pursue higher studies or acquire vocational skills, will be supported through bridging courses and admissions to colleges. Corporate houses have welcomed the Agnipath scheme and expressed willingness to recruit outgoing Agniveers.

The focus of the Agnipath scheme is on meeting the urgent need of the armed forces for a more youthful force, one that is more combat-effective. Currently, there are only about 250,000 soldiers in the Indian Army who are below 25 years of age — out of a total of about 1.1 soldiers. This problem has been building up over the decades. The technological modernisation of the armed forces makes it imperative that steps be taken to ensure an improved “tooth to tail” ratio. This will mean outsourcing many logistics and support functions currently performed by regular soldiers. Cuts in support elements will not affect the combat units. At the same time, the worry that the numerical strength of the armed forces will be reduced in the long-run is unfounded. Agnipath entails a gradual scaling up of numbers, leading to the recruitment of 90,000 Agniveers by the 5th year of implementation and 127,500 Agniveers by 2030.

There is little doubt that the Agnipath scheme will meet the growing aspirations of young people. The scheme will be open to both men and women and their intake will be decided by the armed forces in keeping with their own needs and assessments. The youth will serve the nation through the armed forces and not merely look upon the time-honoured profession of soldiering as just a job. Even now, there are many in the armed forces who wish to leave before the mandatory service period, but cannot do so. The Agnipath scheme will provide for such an early release.

The government has given the armed forces adequate leeway to handle the Agnipath scheme. The nation should repose faith in their judgment and abilities. Subjecting the armed forces and their recruitment policies to fish bowl scrutiny without giving them a fair opportunity to take things forward is ill-advised and definitely not in the national interest.

Sujan Chinoy is the director-general of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi 

The views expressed are personal

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