New Delhi: The Agnipath scheme “came from” the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), not the Army, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said in Lok Sabha Tuesday, citing his interactions with “senior officers” of the armed forces.
Speaking on the Motion of Thanks to the President for her joint address to both houses of Parliament during the ongoing Budget session, the Congress MP from Wayanad said imparting arms training to thousands will lead to an increase in instances of violence.
In his first speech in Parliament since the completion of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Gandhi also launched a blistering attack on the Adani Group and asked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to disclose the amount the Adani Group has given to it through electoral bonds.
Talking about the recruitment of Agniveers, he claimed Army hopefuls, senior officers and veterans he met during the 4,080-km foot march had reservations about the scheme. “It was their view that Agniveer (scheme) didn’t come from the Army. In fact, they even took names. They said (NSA) Ajit Doval has imposed this scheme on the Army,” he claimed.
In his 53-minute speech in the lower house of Parliament, Rahul Gandhi said the feedback he received during the yatra was in contrast to the central government’s stance which hailed the Agnipath scheme as “beneficial”.
“The youth of India, who go running at 4 am to get admission in the Army, don’t agree with you. They told me earlier they used to get 15 years of service and pension. Now, they will be thrown out after four years. They won’t get anything. Senior officers told me they feel Agniveer hasn’t come from the Army. It has come from RSS and Home Ministry,” he said.
Agniveers is the name given to candidates who qualify for the Army’s Agnipath recruitment scheme whereby they will serve in the forces for four years after which only 25 per cent of them will be formalised each year.
Gandhi said veterans he met also expressed concerns about youngsters with military training being let out in society after four years of service. “Senior retired officials told me that we’re giving arms training to thousands and then pushing them out into society. Since there’s unemployment, violence in society will increase,” he said.
The former Congress president further pointed out that while young Indians are talking about the recruitment of Agniveers, the Agnipath scheme found only a brief mention in the President’s joint address to Parliament.
“A lot was said in the President’s address, but Agniveer was mentioned only once. That too just by saying that the Agniveer programme was started by us. There was nothing about where it came from, who brought it or who would benefit from it,” he said.
Also Read: Tale of 2 Agniveer suicides and India’s unemployed. ‘I can die even for 4-day uniform’
‘People asked me 2-3 questions about Adani’
However, a large chunk of Rahul Gandhi’s speech in the Lok Sabha was centred on allegations levelled against the Adani Group.
Questioning the growth in group chairman Gautam Adani’s wealth between 2014 — when Modi first came to power — and now, the Congress leader spoke about the conglomerate’s stake in aviation, shipping and defence sectors before voicing concern about investments by public-sector entities like the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) in the group.
His speech comes in the backdrop of sustained protests by the Congress, demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the Modi government’s alleged collusion with the Adani Group. New York-based research firm Hindenburg Research had in a report released on 24 January accused the conglomerate of having engaged in “brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud scheme over the course of decades”.
“From Tamil Nadu to Kerala, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, everywhere we heard one name — Adani,” Rahul Gandhi said, referring to the Bharat Jodo Yatra that concluded in Srinagar on 30 January.
He added, “When people asked me about this name (Adani). They asked 2-3 questions. They said whenever Adani gets into any business, he becomes successful. He never fails. The youth asked me what was happening. We want to learn. We also want to get into any business and become successful!”
The Congress leader said that the next question he was asked was about how the Adani Group, which was earlier present in two to three sectors, now worked in “8-10 sectors — airports, data centres, cement, solar energy, wind energy, aerospace and defence, consumer finance, renewables, media”.
“They also asked me how Adani’s net worth went from $8 billion to $140 billion from 2014 to 2022. In the list of the world’s richest people, he was number 609 in 2014. Then, some magic happened and he climbed to the second position,” Rahul Gandhi said.
Amidst chants of ‘Modi hai toh mumkin hai” (with Modi, it is possible) from the treasury benches, he said that from apples in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh to ports, airports, infrastructure and even the roads he was walking on during the yatra, “everything belonged to Adani”.
Adani’s rise warrants ‘case study’: Rahul Gandhi
The Congress leader then went further to talk about the Adani Group’s presence in various sectors, mainly aviation, defence and power.
Referring to a rule from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) years, Gandhi said those who did not have prior experience in developing airports could not be issued tenders for the same. The rule, however, was changed by the current dispensation after which the Adani Group was given tenders to develop six airports, he alleged.
“After that, India’s most strategic and profitable airport, the Mumbai airport, was taken away by using agencies. The result was that today Adani facilitates 24 per cent of India’s air traffic and 31 per cent of air freight from his airports,” said Rahul Gandhi.
Pointing out that the Adani Group had no experience in the defence sector, he also brought in the Rafale contracts to further his point. “Yesterday, I saw the PM at HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited). He said wrong accusations were made. But the reality is HAL contract for 126 aircraft was given to Anil Ambani and he went bankrupt,” said the Congress leader.
He continued, “Future entrepreneurs and business schools like Harvard must do a case study: How to use government power to build individual businesses. Look at Adani’s interests in defence. Adani makes drones with the LBIT and refits them for the Army, Navy, Air Force. He’s never done this before. HAL and other companies in India do this.” Rahul Gandhi then gave other examples of the Adani Group bagging contracts for a coal mine in Australia, and for power in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The article has been updated to remove portions of Rahul Gandhi’s speech that were expunged by the Lok Sabha Speaker after the publication of the report.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
Also Read: Market has won & now it’s for Adani to decide whether he will lose or not