Agnipath: Title hit, scheme flop!
The serious business of recruitment, that too for the armed forces, should not have been trivialised with filmy titles. The emotional quotient has been grossly underestimated
Passengers are informed that due to some disturbance in the city, all operations in all three lines of Hyderabad Metro Rail stand suspended till further notice. Passengers are advised to take care and make alternate arrangements, says L&T MRHL Spokesperson on June 17, 2022.
I remember Secunderabad as a serene, peaceful, calm and quiet cantonment. And these are very recent memories. Despite the trouble in other parts of the twin cities, Secunderabad has been generally a calm, semi-urban settlement. But, now one feels sad when one reads about tensions on Bowinapally and riots in Secunderabad railway station – tension in the wake of Nupur Sharma episode and riots after the Agnipath announcement. It is also sad that the metro rail services had to be suspended as a precaution.
But for the demonetisation, most of the grandeur schemes announced by the Centre have been leading to riots or unrest. Demonetisation did cause plenty of unrest, but not so much of violence probably because people's hard-earned money was involved which they were trying to deposit and then withdraw new currency notes by standing in unending, serpentine queues. This was in sharp contrast to the situation that arose out of the Farmers Bills, Citizenship Amendment Act and now the Agnipath.
Critics are not wrong when they say the government announces schemes without much thought or due process of consultations. On the face of it, recruitment for the armed forces sounds grand. In fact, the Army, Navy and Indian Air Force have been advertising asking the youth to join the forces by projecting – rightly so - the glory that the youth can bring to the nation by serving the forces by facing the challenges.
Various recruitment camps, for the army and the police have been attracting huge responses from the unemployed youth. In fact, the examination for police jobs in the Mumbai region had to be held in a sports stadium. Youth wants jobs. Promise of two crore jobs per year was the plank on which Narendra Modi and BJP have been winning elections (apart from the jumla, as Amit Shah himself had described it as, of Rs 15 lakh in your bank accounts when the government gets all the black money stacked up Swiss banks).
For several decades, the government has been on a 'zero budget' meaning nil fresh jobs. Even the PSUs had part-time or temporary contract workers with no week-ends. Job-seekers have not received appointment letters even after tests and interviews. The unannounced freeze continued. The employment ratio and economy were already on doldrums before the series of Covid waves.
The pandemic-driven lockdown has only worsened it. Thousands of youths selected for the defence forces were not recruited due to the pandemic. In such a gloomy backdrop, PM announces 10 lakh jobs in government departments. This was obviously criticised as it woefully falls short of the two-crore-job promise. Then, the Bollywood-title type Agnipath comes offering four years of jobs in the Forces.
Agnipath instantaneously reminds one of the Amitabh Bachhan-starrer violence movie. And look at what one of the staunch prime time TV debate-supporters of the Modi government, Gen G D Bakshi, tweeted: "Was flabbergasted by the Agniveer scheme. I thought initially it was a trial being done on a pilot basis." This is an across-the-board change to convert Indian armed forces to a short tenure quasi-conscript force like the Chinese, he said.
Gen Bakshi further commented: "For God's sake please don't do it." Then went on to present a scary scenario – the trained military personnel, if not employed immediately, could become target for recruitment by terrorist outfits.
The reactions that followed the Agnipath announcement clearly showed how the policy makers had not thought through it before making it public. Just look at the consequences arising out of the four-year service. It will not be a regular or a normal retirement that 75 per cent of the recruits will face. It's not going to be like the retirement of the Short Service Commission officers either.
The 75 per cent will be out because they fail to pass the tests for further promotions that the "eligible" 25 per cent will get. There is a danger of this 75 per cent being treated as "army rejects" even if they succeed in getting the other Central government jobs. As it is, there is a yawning gap between the job promises and fulfillment. Then the future could be uncertain.
What is the guarantee all these 75 per cent of the recruits who would be getting out every year after four years on a recurring basis will be gainfully employed? The 10 per cent reservation, in addition to the ex-servicemen quota, can give rise to another element of unrest among the victims of reservations.
After Gen Bakshi, former Home Minister P Chidambaram sounded another alarm bell: "The armed forces personnel are trained to shoot-to-kill the enemy. The army retirees cannot fit into the civilian security system. The police personnel are trained differently and they ought to have a different mindset." This has to be carefully analysed. Let us not forget the fact that the army hardly opened fire even when they called in to quell riots, unless it was the case of a terrorist attack. They just hold flag marches. That's enough.
It is perfectly fine for any government to announce welfare schemes. The ruling parties (or even the opposition) are entitled to win the elections. They can woo their voters. It is their job. As we discussed last week, the BJP is on an election mode, permanently. The 10-lakh job scheme and the Agnipath are clearly seen in this context.
Modi has been making frequent trips to Gujarat and launching projects valued at thousands of crores of rupees. Each and every speech of the PM and his Ministers has the elements of achievement during the past eight years versus the failure of the Nehru-Gandhi era. Is this ammunition not enough? Why do they have to play with the fire of Agnipath and then get into a long fire-fighting mode trying to explain?
Then we hear that the government is trying to save pension expenditure by Agnipath-type of schemes. There could be many ways of making the army a compact one. As times change and the world goes high-tech, can the defence remain untouched? High-tech oriented defence is the need of the hour. Pakistan sent drones to India. Some of the options that the decision makers could consider are: need-based recruitment, training in technology and appointing militarily-trained techies in key posts.
Traditionally, the youth that passes10th or the 12th standard has been looking for easy-to-get jobs. But, today even for such perceived low-hanging fruits; one has huge competition with post-graduates appearing for jobs meant for people with SSC qualifications. For instance, as many as 4,000 people applied for 14 vacancies of sweepers and sanitary workers at Chennai Assembly Secretariat in February 2019. What was shocking was that many of the applicants were engineering graduates and MBAs besides degree holders in the Commerce, Arts and Science streams as per the media reports. There is an age-old belief that government jobs are secure, stable and hassle-free. It is in this backdrop that one has to view the unrest for jobs which the politicians exploit.
The Agnipath unrest is a chill reminder that we have to focus on the unemployment situation. That's the government's job!
(The columnist is a Mumbai-based media veteran now running websites and Youtube channel known for his thought-provoking messaging)