Violent protests in India over military recruitment

ByFahad Ali

Associated with maritime trade


June 28, 2022

Violent protests

Narendra Modi’s BJP regime is the butt of a protesting India strongly indicating that his brand of extremist politics has fed up his compatriots and they are not missing a chance to spare him. Since the last two years the frequency of protests against the government has become a regular feature of Indian politics and their increasing frequency has apparently unnerved the ruling party. The clamour about blasphemous remarks of leading BJP office holders was joined by violent protests against the newly announced military recruitment policy by the government. These instances have come on the heels of a year-long strike of Indian farmers who besieged Delhi asking the government to take back the statutory alterations Modi made in agricultural policies. Modi prides himself in not budging an inch from the measures he decides to undertake but in this case he was forced to back down when the issue started to hit his support base in many states of India.

Modi’s government announced an overhaul of recruitment for India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces, looking to bring down the average age of personnel and reduce pension expenditure. Known as the Agnipath scheme this so-called transformative scheme seeks to hire more people on short four-year contracts. Aspirants between the ages of 17.5 to 21 will be eligible for the plan as the government wants to have younger and fitter people in the army, navy, and air force. The armed forces aim to recruit about 46,000 people under the new system this year. Military officials said the new system would help bring down the average age of the armed forces particularly in the army, the average age would drop from 32 to 26. After four years of service, only 25% of the recruits, known as Agniveers will be retained in the regular cadre based on merit, willingness and medical fitness. They will then serve for a full term of another 15 years.

The soldiers will go through training for six months and then will be deployed for three and a half years. During this period, they will get a monthly starting salary of 30,000 rupees along with additional benefits which will go up to 40,000 rupees by the end of the four-year service. The remaining candidates will be demobilised with an exit package and other benefits. The reform is aimed at cutting the army’s expenditure on ballooning salaries and pensions – which consume more than half of its budget – and freeing up funds to modernise the forces. The government said this would also enhance the youthful profile of the armed forces.

But many potential recruits object, saying they should be allowed to serve longer than four years. Protesting aspirants have also demanded clarity about the exams conducted in 2019 and 2020, since there has been a hiring freeze for over two years. Opposition parties and some members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party say the system will lead to more unemployment and that the BJP government must stop compromising the dignity, traditions, valour and discipline of the armed forces. Many observers pointed out that the youths’ disappointment was understandable adding that the government and the armed forces have to do more work on their outreach to justify and explain the scheme to the youth. After the protests, the government has decided to change the age limit from 21 to 23 as a one-time waiver. Many professional military personnel however counted that this idea will have a positive impact on armed forces human resource management.

Previously, soldiers have been recruited by the army, navy and air force separately and typically enter service for up to 17 years for the lowest ranks. In this case the shorter tenure has caused concern among potential recruits. People came out on roads protesting and soon violence broke out. Bihar and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh saw protests over the recruitment process for railway jobs in January this year, underlining India’s persistent unemployment problem. Police reportedly opened fire into the crowd and a person died and 13 others were injured. Several states have seen huge protests with protestors setting train coaches and vehicles on fire, blocked roads, and threw stones at the police to protest a new short-term government recruitment policy for the military. They also torched some compartments of three trains and also setting fire to coaches in at least two stations in the eastern state of Bihar and disrupted rail services.

In Bihar, which was the worst-affected, nearly 25,000 police were deployed in eight districts but the protestors blocked trains in 10 places. In northern Haryana state’s Palwal district, some 50 kilometers south of the capital New Delhi, crowds hurled stones at a government official’s house and police protecting the building fired shots to keep the mob at bay and mobile internet was temporarily suspended in Palwal district for the next 24 hours. Protesters say the government’s plan to hire temporary soldiers will reduce their chances of getting coveted permanent military jobs, which guarantee fixed salaries and pensions. Young people in India’s smaller towns and villages prepare for years to become soldiers in the armed forces as the job brings prestige, a regular income and for some, a way out of poverty. TW


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