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Financial aid, jobs, education drives — How BJP wants CMs to ‘placate Agnipath protesters’

Union govt 'not so worried' about opposition protest but 'alarmed' by the public agitation against Agnipath, which envisages short-term recruitment to armed forces.

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New Delhi: Alarmed by the youth protests that have erupted across India against the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, the BJP has instructed all party chief ministers to announce schemes to placate potential recruits.

The BJP-led central government Tuesday announced Agnipath, under which youth aged between 17.5 and 21 years will be recruited as soldiers — or ‘Agniveers’ — in the armed forces for four years.

In the two days since the announcement, youngsters have taken to the streets demanding that the scheme be rolled back. There have been reports about attacks on a BJP leader in Bihar, while the home of another was vandalised. In the state, the office of the BJP in Nawada was reportedly torched.

Apart from the opposition, the Centre has also come under fire from alliance partners such as the JD(U) in Bihar.

A government source told ThePrint: “The government is not much concerned by political opposition to the scheme but is alarmed by the youth agitation in several states where protests have even turned violent.”

“We are concerned enough to put more energy in controlling the unrest since the protesters are unemployed youth and, if not handled with care, this can create a major law-and-order problem,” the source added.

In a bid to control the narrative and stop the protests from escalating further, the BJP, according to insiders, has asked all state units to convince the protesters that the new recruitment plan “will pave the way for endless opportunity for the youth”.

To this end, BJP CMs have been asked to announce schemes for financial aid to Agniveers, preferential recruitment in other sectors and services, and special education drives after completion of their four-year term in the forces.

Under the Agnipath scheme, only 25 per cent of Agniveers will be enrolled in the regular cadre of the armed forces after four years, and those laid off will not be entitled to gratuity and pension benefits.

As the Centre grapples with the fallout of the new recruitment plan, some in the BJP voiced fears over the idea boomeranging.

A senior party leader, on the condition of anonymity, said the “government’s intention is to provide employment to the youth, but knowing the sensibilities attached with Army jobs and pension, Agnipath can boomerang on us because nobody wants short-term employment”.

“The youth invest many years to join the Army and it is very hard to convince them to join for the short-term,” the BJP leader added.

Also read: India’s new CDS will have to decide: Where does the loyalty of the military lie

‘Busting myths’

On Thursday, the Centre issued a “myth-versus-fact” document to address the concerns raised about Agnipath.

According to the document, Agniveers wishing to become entrepreneurs after service will get a financial package and bank loan. “Those wishing to study further, they will be given Class 12-equivalent certificate and bridging course. For those wishing to obtain jobs, they will be given priority in CAPFs (central armed police forces) and state police,” said the factsheet.

Elaborating on the party’s plans to pacify the demonstrators, a BJP source told ThePrint: “The brass has instructed all CMs to amplify the opportunities arising after the youth have worked for the army, navy and air force. They have to communicate that Agniveers would get preference in every recruitment drive undertaken by the state law enforcement agencies and counterintelligence units, sports establishments, etc. Besides, they will get special funding to start their own business on completion of the four-year term.”

“This has to be communicated with urgency and the entire party network has been pressed to deliver the message,” the source said.

The party organisation has already swung into action. In UP, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath urged the aspirants to “not get deceived”. “This scheme will give a new dimension to life,” he tweeted in Hindi, adding that “soldiers recruited under Agnipath will be given preference in police and state service”.

Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma were among the chief ministers to declare similar preferential recruitment in jobs as well as financial aid. The Department of School Education and Literacy under the Education Ministry also announced a special programme to support the Agniveers.

The state BJP units, meanwhile, tweeted their thanks to PM Narendra Modi for announcing the Agnipath scheme, and put out posts seeking to bust “myths” about the recruitment plan and clarifying other points.

Political opposition

The opposition parties were quick to pick holes in the Agnipath scheme, with the Congress demanding it be held off and further consultations be carried out with serving and retired armed forces’ personnel.

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi urged the government “to listen to the voice of unemployed youth”, while Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav called the scheme “negligent and potentially fatal” for the country.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra asked in a tweet: “Why is the BJP government making recruitment to the armed forces its laboratory for experiments? Soldiers serving the Army for several years, does the government see this as a burden?”

The JD(U) has asked for rollback of the scheme, voicing concerns over the protests. BJP MP Varun Gandhi also wrote to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh questioning the scheme.

A senior BJP leader said “it’s too early to get a sense of how this scheme will be taken in the hinterland but one thing is clear: many points still need to be addressed before rollout of Agnipath”.

The leader mentioned the farm laws, which the Centre had to roll back after one year of protests by farmers, “despite knowing it was good for the farm sector”.

“It is too early to say whether this will go like the farm laws. However, the entire party organisation has been pressed to convince the youth,” the leader said.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: Agnipath scheme is proof that Modi govt can bring change for good. But an open mind is key

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