The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the umbrella organisation that spearheaded the movement against the Narendra Modi government’s controversial farm laws, and the United Front of Ex-Servicemen will jointly organise a nationwide campaign against the Centre’s Agnipath armed forces recruitment scheme from August 7 to August 14.
Addressing a media conference in Delhi on Saturday, Yogendra Yadav, the president of Morcha constituent Swaraj India, said the first step would be “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” conferences from August 7 to 14.
Several youth organisations are supposed to join the movement.“We are going to hold major events under the campaign on Sunday in Haryana’s Jind district, Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) and Calcutta. This campaign aims to educate the public about the disastrous consequences of the ill-thought-out Agnipath scheme. We demand a rollback of the scheme,” Yadav said.If the three farm laws that the Morcha forced the Centre to repeal after a yearlong protest were dire, he said, the Agnipath scheme was disastrous.
Yadav said: “With our farmers and soldiers in distress, the backbone of our nation is in danger of being broken. Our silence cannot be the reason for the government to bulldoze and destroy the protectors and feeders of the nation. We forced the government to take back the farm laws and we are sure the Agnipath scheme will also meet the same fate.”
The Modi government has ruled out withdrawing the Agnipath scheme despite violent protests across the country in June this year. Agnipath allows youths to join the armed forces for only four years without pension or gratuity, with 75 per cent of recruits demobbed after the completion of the tenure. The rest are to be retained in the regular cadre, based on merit and organisational requirements.
Many veterans have slammed the government for the “ill-planned” scheme under which soldiers will be recruited in the army, air force and the navy on a short-term, contractual basis with an aim to cut the ballooning salary and pension bills.
The Morcha said the Agnipath scheme had “put an end to the tried and tested method of regular, permanent recruitment to the armed forces. It would mean a drastic reduction in the size of the armed forces from the present sanctioned strength of 14 lakh to merely seven lakh.”
“This is a serious setback to farming families who have contributed to the nation by sending their youths to the armed forces. The proposed ‘all-India, all-class recruitment’ would severely reduce the share of regions like Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, Uttarakhand, western UP and eastern Rajasthan that have contributed to the armed forces for generations, besides affecting the morale of the regiments,” the Morcha said in a statement.
The recruitment on an “all-India, all-class” basis is set to change the composition of some regiments that take in youths from specific regions as well as castes.
“The campaign demands that the pending vacancies (about 1.25 lakh) and the current-year vacancies (about 60,000) be filled immediately following the pre-existing method of regular and permanent recruitment. The recruitment process already initiated must be completed with age relaxation of two years in lieu of non-recruitment during the last two years,” the SKM said.
“All cases against anti-Agnipath protesters must be withdrawn and the arrested youths must be released forthwith. There should be no privatisation in the defence sector, the government must accept its responsibility for national security and protection of the honour and morale of the armed forces,” the statement added.
Additional reporting from PTI