Dr. Muhammad Irfan
The Modi government recently announced a short-term recruitment scheme in the Indian army named “Agneepath”. The Agneepath Scheme is a federal government recruitment scheme in which chosen applicants would serve as the Agniveers in the Indian Armed Forces for four years. After completing the four-year program, the Aginveers will return to society as disciplined, vibrant, motivated, and talented workers to continue their careers in the domain of their choice.
The scheme seems to be an erratic move, possibly driven by the dreams of regional hegemony. It is most likely part of a larger agenda that raised reasonable concerns about political and religious-based exploitation within India and the possibility of the misuse of trained Agniveers for fueling insurgency and anarchy in rival countries.
Protests have outbursted across India as this new recruiting scheme was advertised. The youth is more concerned with the insecurity of the jobs in an era of massive unemployment as the Modi government failed to deliver on the economic front as it promised; therefore has to rely merely on exploiting religious and ethnic diversities to prolong its rule. The protests turned violent as the Indian army refused to take back this recruitment scheme. There were fears that protesters may attack the Indian Parliament and Prime Minister House. Delhi remains on high alert in this chaotic situation. The Indian government announced a 10% reservation in central government jobs for the Agniveers who had served four years in the Indian army, but this move couldn’t appease the protesters.
The world’s leading western economies that had just started to recover from the destructive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are facing the blows of the Russia-Ukraine conflict that led to increased prices of petroleum products worldwide, especially in Europe. How this scheme Agneepath will help India economically is hard to grasp if the move is aimed at slashing the growing burden of perks and privileges of permanent employment. Economists view this move as only adding to the existing massive unemployment besides the risk of the falling of the unemployed trained Agniveers in the hands of drug peddlers, crime cartels, and terrorist organizations.
Another question also raised by the former military experts is whether Agniveers will have the same commitment and passion to the army as permanent employees? Would they be ready to obey the orders despite knowing the future of their employment? Would job insecurity and fear of unemployment after four years of service not distress them?
The chaotic situation in the post-advertisement scenario of the short-term recruitment is one aspect of the issue. The other aspects of it, like domestic political exploitation and misuse of trained force regionally, are more concerning and generate serious apprehension.
Political pundits hint at the possibility of the political exploitation of the Agniveers once they are well trained and unemployed after serving the four years of service. BJP has a history of exploiting anti-Pakistan and religious sentiments. Voices are being raised against the Agneepath scheme within India as well, and many consider it as a plan to train the RSS to strengthen the future endeavors of the BJP, which is planning to prolong its rule in India by pursuing Hindutva ideology. Former Indian Director General of Military Operations Lieutenant General (retd) Vinod Bhatia termed the Agneepath scheme regressive and unnecessary and viewed that the Agniveers would be risk averse. Jawhar Sircar, a renowned former Indian administrative service officer and prominent public intellectual of India, suggests that Agneepath adds to Modi’s list of inglorious blunders.
Minorities in India, especially Indian Muslims, are facing the worst sort of oppression in one or the other way since Modi rose to power. There are countless incidents of vandalism and mob lynching, especially against Muslims. Ban on Hijab and Adhan, blasphemous remarks of BJP leadership are the recent incident of rising hatred in India. Minorities in India, especially Indian Muslims’ fear that Agneepath, in the long run, might be the plan of Muslim genocide in the hands of trained workers of RSS. Many renowned politicians had been publicly speaking about the genocide of Muslims or their forced conversion to Hinduism.
Another angle of viewing the Agneepath is strategic realignments in the milieu of US policy of China containment. The question is, could India plan to train its youth for a possible future war in the region? Another question is whether China-India Standoff, also known as Doklam Standoff, is the impetus for this move? Whether India has a fear of possible external invasion from China and therefore planning for resilience at the mass level? Being part of US lead Quad, introduction to this short-term recruitment scheme Agneepath by India would certainly raise valid concerns in China. A similar move reciprocated by the regional countries, especially China, would raise the alarm in the west, especially in the Quad countries.
Pakistan should also be more concerned with Agneepath as there are numerous negative aspects. Indian efforts for demographic change in IIOJK in blatant violation of UN resolutions are not hidden. They are settling Hindus in the valley. Are they planning to use Agniveers in the same context? Indian interference in Balochistan is also a fact, arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav is a vivid example. Can India plan to use Agniveers to fuel the insurgency in the neighboring countries? Can India plan to exploit the Afghanistan situation that the international community has abandoned after coalition forces withdrawal? Nothing can be ruled out when it comes to India, as they always dreamt of absolute power in the region.
Agneepath certainly cannot be limited to merely shedding some extra burden from the Indian defense budget; it certainly is a move that has multi internal and regional dimensions that need to be studied minutely. Though the Indian army denied taking back the Agneepath despite violent protests across India, the Modi government will have to kneel before protesters if the situation protracts. Concerns of the unemployed youth are quite compelling in India’s prevailing mass unemployment and poverty-stricken circumstances. In any case, regional countries, especially Pakistan, must keep a significantly closer look at India’s move and its possible strategic and security-related consequences. Realignments in the region and a show of military might on the issue of the South China Sea are realities that have the potential of transferring into a large-scale conflict.
*The author is an Islamabad-based media analyst and quasi columnist; they can be reached at [email protected]
**The Diplomatic Insight does not take any position on issues, and the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Diplomatic Insight and its staff