India’s ‘Agnipath’ scheme sparks debate ahead of elections

| Updated: 24 May, 2024 2:16 pm IST

NEW DELHI:The controversy surrounding India’s “Agnipath” scheme for recruiting soldiers has intensified, with criticisms from various quarters and political parties, particularly in the lead-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The scheme, designed to address the ballooning salary and pensions bill, has faced backlash for its short-term contractual basis and lack of post-service benefits like pensions.

Protestors have raised concerns over the scheme’s potential impact on soldiers’ financial security, as only 25 percent of recruits are planned to be absorbed into permanent positions after their four-year tenure. Critics argue that the scheme fails to provide adequate retirement benefits, leaving soldiers without pensionary support and healthcare benefits.

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Experts view the Agnipath scheme as a political move rather than a strategic initiative by the defence forces. It’s seen as a poll plank for the Modi government, aiming to address the unemployment crisis in the country, with promises of recruiting 10 lakh people across various departments and ministries within 18 months.

The Indian Army’s internal assessment of the scheme coincides with promises from opposition parties, like the Congress, to remove the scheme if they come to power. The evaluation seeks feedback from stakeholders, including Agniveers, to potentially modify the program based on performance analysis and observations.

Former Union Minister Anand Sharma criticized the scheme, highlighting its implications for national security and the welfare of defense personnel. He pledged to scrap the scheme if Congress assumes power, emphasizing the need to prioritize soldiers’ interests.

Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram condemned the Election Commission’s directive not to politicize the scheme, asserting the opposition’s right to criticize government policies. Chidambaram outlined the scheme’s flaws, including its categorization of soldiers, lack of post-service support, and imposition despite opposition from the Army.

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The Election Commission’s involvement reflects the sensitivity of the issue, with warnings issued to political parties against using armed forces for campaigning purposes. Despite the directive, political discourse surrounding the Agnipath scheme continues to shape public opinion and influence electoral strategies.

As the debate intensifies, the fate of the Agnipath scheme remains uncertain, subject to ongoing evaluation, political negotiations, and public scrutiny. The scheme’s potential impact on national security, soldier welfare, and electoral dynamics underscores its significance in the socio-political landscape of India.

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