Thousands of young people took to the streets across the country to demand that the Indian Army’s “contractualization” of jobs be reversed, and opposition parties, trade unions, farmers’ associations, youth organizations, and student outfits of various political stripes joined in chorus to support the protests against Agnipath, the four-year contracting scheme. On Thursday, these organizations began consulting with one another to form a national platform against Agnipath. Opposition parties have urged the Centre to scrap the system, citing national interest as a reason. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the trade union of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), called the protests “politically motivated” and distanced itself from Agnipath.
In states where the Army recruits the most, such as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan, youth protested massively against the Agnipath system. Youth organizations protested in Delhi as well, in solidarity with their counterparts in other states.
Due to the protests and attacks against trains, 34 trains have been cancelled, and 72 have been delayed, according to the Indian Railways.
On the second day of violent protests in Bihar, protesters set fire to train bogies in Kaimur and Chhapra districts, blocked train movements in Siwan, Ara (Bhojpur), Jehanabad, Nawada, Saharsha, Chhapra, and other locations, and disrupted road traffic in some areas. According to East Central Railway officials, 22 trains were cancelled, and five were halted in the middle of their journey. Aruna Devi, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was injured when protesters attacked her vehicle in Nawada. The BJP office in Nawada was also vandalized by violent protesters who demanded that the old system of recruitment in the defence services be reinstated.
During the protests against the scheme in Palwal, Haryana, fifteen police officers were seriously injured, including two Station House Officers, and five government vehicles were set on fire. Massive protests occurred in districts like Rohtak, Rewari, and Charkhi Dadri. Demonstrators in Gurugram blocked the Delhi-Jaipur highway for more than six hours. Several points in Haryana and Rajasthan were closed to traffic.
Protests erupted in various parts of Uttar Pradesh as well. Hundreds of young people gathered in Bulandshahr at the busy Bhood crossing to demand that the scheme be scrapped. The youth, holding the Tricolor in their hands, chanted anti-government slogans and claimed that the government was playing with their future. The police had to use mild force to clear the protesters from NH91, and at least eight people were arrested. Similar outbursts were also witnessed in Unnao, Gonda, and Bareilly districts.
Opposition parties demanded that the scheme be scrapped right away. The Agnipath system, according to Congress, makes a mockery of military training. At a joint press conference with Ajay Maken and Sachin Pilot, former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said, “It appears to us that the scheme makes a mockery of training; inducts an ill-trained and ill-motivated soldier into the defence forces, and discharges a disappointed and unhappy ex-soldier into society.” Given the situation on the border, Congress leaders believe it is critical that soldiers in the defence forces are young, well-trained, motivated, happy, satisfied, and confident in their future. The party suggested a comprehensive consultation after claiming that the Agnipath scheme failed to meet these goals.
According to the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the scheme is detrimental to India’s national interests. “Professional armed forces cannot be raised by recruiting ‘contract soldiers’ for four years. This scheme, which aims to save money for pensions, jeopardizes the quality and efficiency of our professional armed forces, according to a statement from the Left.
The protests will be intensified by youth and student organizations. “We’re in touch with all youth and student organizations fighting unemployment and the Agnipth scheme.” Even in patriotism, this government is introducing a contract system. The Indian Youth Congress president Srinivas B.V. told The Hindu that “a national platform will be formed soon to take these protests forward,” drawing parallels to the Citizenship Amendment Act protests.
Mayukh Biswas, general secretary of the Students Federation of India, said his organization participates in the protests in Bihar and Rajasthan. “In the coming days, it will spread to Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and other states. ” This policy will result in around 35,000 jobless recruits looking for work each year, eventually leading to a militarization of society,” Mr Biswas said, confirming that youth and student organizations are discussing the issue.
Trade unions have also expressed their dissatisfaction. Binay Kumar Sinha, general secretary of the BMS, said the BMS welcomed the government’s announcement of filling 10 lakh government jobs but opposed the Agnipath scheme. “It’s the equivalent of contracting out army personnel.” The employment provided under the system will not be of high quality. This is a political announcement ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections,” Mr Sinha said, adding that the ongoing protests are not a trade union action but rather a political statement.
Tapan Sen, the leader of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said the move would severely compromise and negatively affect the armed forces’ efficiency, threatening the country’s overall security as well as the quality of employment, determination, and professionalism, all to the detriment of national interests.
Harbhajan Singh Sidhu, general secretary of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha, called the move anti-national. “We have the highest unemployment and inflation rates in the world.” This scheme is mocking the plight of unemployed youth. Following a meeting with all like-minded students, youth, and farmer organizations, we will form a joint strategy to combat this. The fight against this scheme is the responsibility of all citizens. What are their plans for this country? Mr Sidhu stated, “This is worse than the colonial regime.”
The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) has also expressed opposition to the plan. Rakesh Tikait, the BKU’s national spokesperson, said that farmers had suffered for 13 months due to the government’s wrong policies and that now the erroneous step would cause youth to suffer the consequences. “The government should be aware that most young people who join the military are sons of farmers.” “Until our last breath, we will fight for the interests of our children.”