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Rajnath Singh in Jammu and Kashmir, youths protest

Protesters raise slogans against BJP outside army’s recruitment office, allegedly prompting the security forces to resort to a lathicharge
Rajnath Singh.
Rajnath Singh.
File photo

Muzaffar Raina   |   Srinagar   |   Published 17.06.22, 02:23 AM

Protests erupted in Jammu on Thursday against the Narendra Modi government’s Agnipath scheme as defence minister Rajnath Singh reached Kashmir on a two-day trip to review preparedness for the Amarnath Yatra.

Under the Agnipath scheme that Rajnath launched on Tuesday, youths will be able to join the armed forces as soldiers known as Agniveers for just four years. After the end of the tenure, only 25 per cent of the recruits will be retained and the rest will be demobilised without pension or gratuity.

Hundreds of protesters raised slogans against the BJP, Prime Minister Modi and Rajnath outside the army’s recruitment office at B.C. Road in Jammu, allegedly prompting the security forces to resort to a lathicharge.

A protester who identified himself as Sahil Sharma was profusely bleeding from his face. He said he was injured in police action. The protesters tried to disrupt traffic on the busy road leading to the army office and were dispersed by baton-wielding cops.

The protesters had first blocked the Tawi bridge before marching towards the army’s recruitment office.

They alleged that their planned careers in the armed forces were being ruined after gruelling preparations for two years.

Most of these aspirants have cleared their medical and physical tests for recruitment in the army last year and are awaiting the written exams.

“We submitted our forms for recruitment in the army in February 2020 but the process started a year later due to the Covid outbreak. The written test was initially scheduled for April 25 last year but was postponed several times,” Munish Sharma, an army aspirant, said during another protest outside the Press Club in Jammu.

“Today, we came to know that the process for our recruitment stands cancelled and we have to re-apply in accordance with Agnipath. It is a great injustice to us,” he said, adding that the new scheme had rendered “the youth hopeless”.

There has, however, been no official word from the army on the alleged cancellation of exams.

In the Valley, Rajnath addressed soldiers in Baramulla but did not mention Agnipath. He accused Pakistan of fuelling trouble in Jammu and Kashmir and continuously trying to disturb peace in India. He praised the security forces and said their national pride was so strong that anybody trying to bleed the country would only bleed itself.

The defence minister’s visit comes at a time Kashmir has been rattled by a spate of targeted killings, including that of a Kashmiri Pandit employee. Pandits have been protesting for over a month seeking relocation to Jammu and alleging that the Valley was unsafe for them.The administration is worried about the possibility of militants targeting the Amarnath pilgrimage that begins on June 30. Valley police chief Vijay Kumar on Thursday said he had recovered a 15kg IED but did not link it to the Yatra.

Rajnath, who was accompanied by army chief General Manoj Pande, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, Lt Gen. Upendra Dwivedi, and other top officers, said Pakistan had always resorted to anti-India activities.

“Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed terror activities in the past. Due to the relentless efforts of the personnel of the armed forces, BSF, CRPF and J&K police, there has been a significant decline in the number of terror activities recently,” Rajnath said.The minister recollected the sacrifices of Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Khudiram Bose and Ashfaqullah Khan.

“At 21, Ashfaqullah Khan’s mother would plead him to get married but he would avoid it. When he was sentenced to death after killing the British and before his hanging, his magistrate asked him if his last wish would be fulfilled,” he said.

“He told the magistrate to send a message to his mother that his son was (finally) getting married (to the gallows). This is the national pride that motivates you (soldiers) to make sacrifices for the country.”

The minister said he was amazed by the discipline of the soldiers and always wondered what kept their spirit of sacrifice alive. He said he felt energetic, happy and at peace in their company.

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