The Agnipath scheme, in the long-term perspective, shall galvanise India into a nation of disciplined people. Some defence veterans and Opposition leaders have branded it as vacuous. Their perception of this innovative scheme is short-sighted. Let us examine if it is indeed a path-breaking reform.
The philosophy of military training is the national reformatory bedrock to create a disciplined population. It instils the qualities of character, honesty, integrity, punctuality and most importantly, patriotism. For the first four years, training the youth at the age of 17 to 21-23 years may be the status quo. But the fifth year onwards, there shall be a large pool of disciplined and trained youth, and each year, the transformed pool shall grow exponentially in numbers. By 2047, the centenary year of Independence, 7,24,500 disciplined Agniveers (assuming the 75 per cent release theory) would be available. They can either pursue higher education, opt for vocational studies or join corporates, police/armed constabulary, Coast Guard, aviation industry, Assam Rifles, BSF, Railways, defence public sector units or compete in the UPSC examinations.
To channelise the energy of the youth at an impressionable age in military matters or reformatory studies is easier. Four years of military training-cum-service shall further ground these individuals in these studies. And, when the Agniveers are still young, it shall open up to them a plethora of opportunities for higher education, vocational avenues and assured jobs based on concessions as guaranteed reservations.
My suggestion is that the defence forces should absorb 50 per cent and release the balance to the civilian pool. Secondly, the Agnipath scheme should be made an Act through legislation in Parliament with the proviso of being a pre-qualification for: (i) Entry into IAS/IFS/IPS and all government and corporate jobs; (ii) candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections should be Agniveers as a prerequisite; (iii) the Ministry of Defence is staffed by generalists who lack professionalism in matters of defence. Instead, the Headquarters, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), should be tasked with all professional functions, be it military or administrative. And assuredly, the HQ CDS should acquit itself with greater and remarkable efficiency and dedication in the best interests of operational theatre commands and the nation; (iv) Once the MoD stands dispensed with, 45% of the pension bill for civilians in the ministry, currently as part of the defence budget, will vanish, thereby resulting in national savings.
Why has India become a State of violent protests, vandalism, murders, bootlegging and narcotic abuse, where some political leaders act as abettors of internecine caste-religion-based feuds? It is because our population lacks disciplined minds and nurses selfishness and nepotism in some walks of life.
Over the next 60 years, 13.8 lakh youth would be Agniveers, provided the 50 per cent absorption formulae is accepted. This would be a formidable Indian strength of disciplined manpower. I shall term all Agniveers as Dharamveers. In due course, in every sphere of activity, be it government, corporate or political, all Indians entering it shall be Dharamveers. Such a patriotic manpower, as Dharamveers, shall make India belong to the First World league with stronger, modern and younger defence forces. Our Constitution empowers us in many ways, but the impactful philosophy and ideology of Agnipath reminds us of certain rights and responsibilities towards the nation, which Dharamveers shall obey to the hilt.
Architects and foundation-layers must work in consonance. However, it wasn’t so, to my mind, while planning the Agnipath theme. The Raksha Mantri (RM) and the National Security Adviser rightfully enunciated the seed, but all Service Chiefs should have commenced its plot-building bottom upwards: getting inputs from at least five Army, Air Force and Naval Training Centres each, who impart basic training to recruits for 6-9 months. It is because Agnipath envisages training only the soldiers, airmen and sailors, and not defence officers. However, it is never too late. The CDS should, over the next eight years and from time to time, take inputs from the three Service Chiefs and amend or remove pitfalls with the concurrence of the RM and the PM. In the long run, Agnipath shall prove to be a lodestar in nation-building.
Not too long back, on a flight going to Texas, there were many passengers in camouflage overalls — American service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan for the holiday weekend. As the plane gained height, the Captain announced on the PA system, “My crew and I feel privileged today to fly our military personnel. We honour your sacrifice and thank you for your service to the nation.” The aircraft burst into spontaneous and seemingly endless applause, with passengers standing and turning to the soldiers, hands on their hearts, to acknowledge their service. It is hoped the Indians will also appreciate and emulate such a gesture of goodwill in the years to come, once all Indians qualify as Agniveers, nay, as Dharamveers.
Many democracies the world over impart military training to their entire youth. It is a wise step to discipline impressionable minds and motivate them to be patriotic and humane. An appropriate quote for the old mindset is, “It is easier to get a new idea in, but the only thing harder than getting a new idea into the human mind is getting the old one out.”
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