Now when the Agnipath scheme is all set to be rolled out for the youths of our country, it is imperative to look into this scheme from the pragmatic lenses and review the criticisms in the light of both political and non-political discourses. Agnipath or Agneepath is a military recruitment scheme launched by the Union Cabinet to provide the youths with an opportunity to not only serve in the Indian armed forces but also provides them with the lucrative opportunity to earn for themselves a dignified, powerful and skilled life at an age as young as 23(revised upper-limit) or else 21 with of course accompanying monetary and other benefits. In this article, I intend to look at this scheme through the prism of pragmatism, optimism and realism by analysing the scheme from multi-dimensional perspectives that has the potential to harness youth power and capability for protecting the national interests, sovereignty and integrity of Bharat.
Before understanding the three perspectives, let us first address the criticisms surrounding the scheme as it would pave way for a better understanding of the scheme. Since the scheme’s announcement, few sections of the society criticised the scheme on different grounds but to what extent the criticism stands constructive is a point that I intend to highlight here. There are two wings of people falling within these categories- first are those who fall within political discourses and second are the pseudo-intellectual groups. The first group comprises mostly of political leaders belonging to the opposition party that have been consistently opposing anything and everything launched by Modi-led government probably because that is what serves their ideology, agenda and party interests. Needless to say, large scale destruction of property, risk of the lives of police personnel in the name of protests against the Agnipath scheme is nothing but a politically driven step by these opposition political leaders across India who vehemently are criticising and inciting the so called “youths” citing reasons such as- this scheme would render them unemployed, ineligible for pensions and uncertain future after 4 years of services etc. This is a result of misinformation, improper communication and poor-narrative building by social media that has resulted into the same but undoubtedly the scheme has much more to offer than is being perceived.
Talking about a more dangerous grouping of pseudo-intellectuals who claim that anything that this ruling government does is nothing but ‘Hindutva politics’ but what it fails to understand is that for the first time, any government in power is prioritising national interests and defence security over anything else by captivating the tremendous youth power in India. This group of people are equally responsible for the large scale destruction and chaos caused in the aftermath of the Agnipath launch by not just brain-washing a section of society through their pseudo-liberal narratives but also by consistently trying to picturesque this ruling government in the light of anti-people, anti-democracy and anti-minorities. They criticise the scheme on the grounds of weakening the military system and culture (when the chiefs of the military system are themselves appreciating the scheme), on grounds of four years being less a time for preparing a soldier for combat activities (forgetting the valour of the newly posted Indian soldiers depicted during the Kargil war) and in terms of baseless allegations that Government wants to save on providing pensions to the people serving in the armed forces completing neglecting the amount that the government shall be spending in training each ‘Agniveer’ every year so that they stand resolute and confident while serving the country at the borders.
In light of the above discussions, let us first understand Agnipath through a pragmatic perspective. The Agnipath scheme comes with its own practical advantages that target some of the pressing problems of India like unemployment among youths, defence security amidst rival neighbourhood and most importantly captivating and directing youth potential in the right direction especially considering the chaos it can bring otherwise as seen in Kashmir and other states of India. This change in the form of short service commission within the military recruitment was not just needed but immensely important considering the changing global geopolitics where war and war like the situation is always on your doorstep, and this becomes all the way more relevant considering Pakistan, Taliban and China in our vicinity. This is the most realistic change needed in terms of making the armed forces stronger, vigilant and dynamic. Change is the only constant thing, and changes are always necessary. When it comes to enhancing the capabilities of our military system, modern technology along with a strong backbone support of our human resources becomes fundamental to its development. In the words of our Army Chief, this scheme would make the “armed forces younger and fitter”; hence, such a defence policy reform is pragmatic and realistic.
Second in terms of analysing the Agnipath scheme from an optimistic perspective, it can be said that any long-term developmental goal comes with its own short-term challenges. In this case, critics are often questioning about “what happens after 4 years to these Agniveers”- the answer to this stands from two perspectives. A pessimistic person finds problem to every solution. Similarly, for these people, Agniveers will be jobless, shattering the military ethos and will have no future as there will be no pension related benefits etc. However, an optimistic person sees a solution in every problem and for these set of people, Agniveers after four years of services in the armed forces will be way ahead of others in terms of financial support to start something new (as they will be paid a one-time amount of Rs. 11.71 lakh as Seva-Nidhi Package apart from their regular salary during the 4 years), in terms of physical and mental strength and training, they will be having greater chances of absorption in the paramilitary and police services across India as has also been claimed by different states; third, 25% of the recruits will be retained in the regular services based on their performances and organisational requirements. Fourth, at an age when today’s youth are figuring about what to do in their 30s, these Agniveers will be financially, physically and mentally stable to start their careers in promising sectors like as entrepreneurs, police and other combat services, even higher education and contribute to R&D of the country. These are some of the opportunities that have been highlighted and all those who claim that these ‘nationalist’ may convert into ‘terrorist or extremist’ due to lack of employment opportunities after 21- can they suggest one such instance in India’s history where this has happened? India is known for the nationalists who have given their sweat, blood and life for national service and these ‘nationalists’ have never pelted stones or damaged countries’ properties.
Lastly, analysing the scheme from the lens of ‘realism’ provides a whole new different approach to the Agnipath scheme. Realism in International relations is the most powerful theory driving the geopolitics of today. It denotes power, survival of the fittest and a zero-sum game. Today, if we understand India’s situation, it is an emerging ‘Vishwaguru’ and for the country to lead the world in the years to come, it needs to be strong at three fronts- economically, culturally and militarily. In other words, soft-power with the potential to exert hard power as and when needed, determines the strength of the country in today’s geo-political scenario. Visualising Agnipath in this context explains its relevance and need within the defence system. India is globally known for being a peace loving nation, one of the largest successful democracies and an admirable soft-power player. Amidst these advantages,
it’s equally important that India takes care of its hard-power through its strong defence and military system which will not only reassert India’s global impact but will also enable India to be at ease amidst conflicting groupings, changing geo-political dynamics and dangerous neighbourhood. Through the Agnipath scheme, India’s hard power will become more strong, resilient, dynamic, younger, fitter and modern with updated technologies and efficient human resource.
Lastly, the spread of misinformation and improper channels of communication is something that the government should focus upon and rectify on a priority basis. Second, all those youths involved in large-scale destruction of country’s properties can never be suitable for serving the same country. Third, all those youths, individuals, organisations and rival political leaders who feel deceived by this scheme always have an option of contributing in different ways for the service of the country- after all, nobody is forcing the youths to be Agniveers and serve the country at the borders. Lastly, this scheme is for all those young dynamic Agniveers who see nation and national interests beyond anything and for whom, serving in the armed forces is a matter of pride without having to bother about the duration of the scheme because if they are resolute enough, they will definitely continue to make country proud wherever they go and whatever they do.