Home / India / Central govt and BJP defend Agnipath scheme amid protests

Central govt and BJP defend Agnipath scheme amid protests

Party wary of pent-up anger over unemployment and price rise finding a vent through protests
Police lathi-charge protesters in Haldwani on Friday.
Police lathi-charge protesters in Haldwani on Friday.
PTI picture

J.P. Yadav   |   New Delhi   |   Published 18.06.22, 01:36 AM

The government and the BJP on Friday sought to defend the Agnipath scheme in the face of violent protests that have shown no signs of ebbing, trying to build a PR drive around the “trustworthy” leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and accusing the Opposition of instigation.

There is, however, growing concern in the party about the inflamed situation spiralling out of control with festering discontent over unemployment and price rise finding a vent through the protests against Agnipath, which seeks to recruit soldiers for just four years and then release three-fourths of the youths after the end of the tenure without any pension benefits or ex-servicemen status.

Many in the BJP are worried that the government could eventually have to withdraw the scheme, like the three contentious farm laws, causing yet another embarrassment to Modi and his strongman image.

“We are unsure as to how the situation will unfold. If it doesn’t cool down in the next couple of days, it could become a serious challenge,” a BJP leader said, indicating that there was concern at the top too.

On the face, however, BJP leaders are ruling out the possibility of backing off as ministers and leaders took to social media to reach out to agitated youths and at the same time accuse the Opposition of fuelling the protests.

As Modi remains silent — a tried and tested formula when faced with adversity — the official Twitter handles of the government and the BJP have gone into an overdrive to bust the “myths” swirling around Agnipath and run videos of youths hailing the scheme.

Party leaders hope that with the government set to start the recruitment process soon, the visuals of protests will be replaced by those of youths queuing up to join the armed forces.

“Congratulations and best wishes to the youths. Recruitment in the armed forces are set to start and you have a golden opportunity to join the army as Agniveers,” former minister Rajyavardhan Rathore, an Olympic gold medallist and retired army officer, said in a video posted on Twitter. He hailed the decision of the government to raise the age upper limit for recruits for this year from 21 to 23 years, which has appeared to be a hurried move to quell the anger.

“Which youth around you can think of earning Rs 20 lakh at the age of 24?” Rathore asked in another video, trying to dangle the carrot of monetary benefits of the scheme without going into the concerns over the short service and the fears expressed over a massive number of youths trained in the use of weapons joining an anaemic job market every year.

“Moreover, you will get preference in recruitments in the state police and the paramilitary forces. Who can give you such an assurance at the age of 24?” he added, urging youngsters to have faith in the “trustworthy” leadership of Modi.

While seeking to hail the scheme, some others like rural development minister Giriraj Singh, who is from Bihar, claimed that the protests in his state were sponsored by the Opposition RJD. He said the “violent protests” in Bihar were being staged by the RJD and exhorted the people to give a fitting reply.

There are murmurs in the BJP over Bihar emerging as the epicentre of the intense protests, with some leaders obliquely hinting at the party’s strained relations with partner JDU and chief minister Nitish Kumar. “Why is 90 per cent of the violence taking place in Bihar?” a BJP MP from the state asked.

Although the government tried to project that it was firm on implementing Agnipath, sections in the BJP looked unsure about how the wider problem of joblessness would pan out, triggered by the emotive issue of recruitment in the armed forces.

“Employment in the army is a very emotive issue. Along with the pride associated with working in the army, youths are also driven by the stability the job provides. The new scheme appears to deal a blow to all this,” a party leader said, fearing that the protests would only intensify.

BJP leaders hope that Modi will broach the topic during his rallies in poll-bound Gujarat on Saturday and show the party a path out of the crisis.

The concern was palpable even among the new generation of BJP leaders and workers, many of whom pointed out that they have been receiving messages from party backers on the ground that there is a groundswell of anger at the new recruitment policy.

“Many youths from my village are privately sending messages saying they will not vote for the BJP if the new recruitment scheme is not withdrawn,” a BJP leader from Bihar working in Delhi said.

Compounding the problems for the party is BJP parliamentarian Varun Gandhi, who has been openly critical of the government’s handling of jobs. The Lok Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh on Friday posted a video on Twitter seeking to project himself as a leader of the agitated youths.

Varun appealed to the youths not to resort to violence while obliquely referring to the possibility of the government buckling under pressure, stressing that their concerns can’t be ignored. The MP pointed out how the government had already raised the age bar from 21 to 23 for this year, adding that it raises the hope of more concessions.

“Within 24 hours of announcing the scheme, the government has brought a revision by raising the age limit. This gives us full hope that the government will address all the concerns,” Varun said in the video, calling upon youths to organise peaceful protests.

Copyright © 2020 The Telegraph. All rights reserved.