Trail of violence across seven states in India over new defense recruitment scheme


A trail of protests across seven states in the northern plains of India, stretching from the westernmost flank of Rajasthan to the eastern point in Bengal, involving arson, raged for the third consecutive day since the Narendra Modi government announced a new recruitment policy for four years in the defense forces.

The policy was announced on Tuesday and have since witnessed widespread protests mostly in Bihar and parts of Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bengal.

Except for Bengal and Rajasthan all the other states are governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, to which the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs.

In Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia, a mob set a train on fire and ransacked the railway station before stick-wielding cops dispersed them. Shops and benches on the platforms were damaged.

Two coaches of the Jammu Tawi-Guwahati Lohit Express Express train were set on fire at Mohiuddinagar railway station in Bihar’s Samastipur, though no passengers were injured. The protest in Bihar has spread to 17 districts across the state. A BJP local office was set ablaze and an elected representative in the Bihar Assembly from Nawada, Aruna Devi’s vehicle came under attack.  The protesters disrupted road traffic in Samastipur town on Friday and blocked the Patna-New Delhi main railway route in Buxar and Patna-Howrah-Gaya-Bhagalpur section. Three air-conditioned compartments of the Vikramshila Express were torched after it was ransacked. Protests were also reported in Arwal, Khagaria, Bhojpur, and Lakhisarai districts.

Train compartments were torched at Bhabhua, Chhapra and Gopalgunj. The protests have disrupted the schedule of at least 25 trains across the state of Bihar.

Despite the Bihar government’s additional chief secretary (Home)’s instruction to officials in all the districts to gather intelligence and initiate action against the protestors, the violence has continued for the third consecutive day.

In Haryana’s Palwal and Gurugram (adjacent to the national capital Delhi), vehicles were torched and stones pelted at police stations. In Bengal, a train on the Bongaon line (near the India-Bangladesh border) railway tracks were blocked.

Under the recruitment scheme, named Agnipath and the appointees being described Agniveers, individuals below the rank of officer, between the ages of 17-and-half to 23 can apply. When the scheme was announced on Tuesday the upper age limit was 21, which was revised to 23 after two days of violent protests.

In the first year, the recruits will draw Rs. 4.76 lakhs (US $ 6098.65) annually. By the fourth and last year the annual remuneration could rise up to Rs. 6.92 lakhs (US $ 8866.11). On the completion of fourth year, around 25 per cent of the recruits will be absorbed in the regular cadre, depending on their willingness, service record and medical fitness for a term of 15 years.

Post-release, the now retired recruits, with the option of going for a second career, will be given a compensation of Rs. 11.71 lakh (US $ 15,003.20). There is an insurance cover (non-contributory) of Rs. 48 lakh (US $ 61,499.04).

The protests have exposed the chinks in Narendra Modi’s claims of pulling India out of an economic crisis and bringing ‘good days’ a promise that was underlined during his poll campaign eight years ago, when he first became the Prime Minister. Promises of jobs to the unemployed have not materialized.

The Indian Army and other defense forces draw people especially from the rural areas, who look at the defense forces as a means to serve the country, while also securing the family’s future. The last round of recruitment for the regular cadre of the Indian Army was held in 2019. In the usual practice, 65,000 personnel below the rank of officers have been recruited annually. For the same level, under the new scheme recruitment of 46,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen below the rank of the officer will start from September with campus interviews at recognized technical colleges.

The unemployment rate in the country, according to the data available till the month of April 2022, was at 7.8 percent, marginally lower than corresponding figures for the month of January 2022 (8.1 percent) but higher than March (7.6 percent).

“When India faces threats on two fronts, the uncalled for Agnipath scheme reduces the operational effectiveness of our armed forces. The BJP government must stop compromising the dignity, traditions, valor and discipline of our forces,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi, the member of Parliament from the main opposition Congress. Gandhi also urged PM Modi not to take “agnipareeksha” (trial by fire) of the patience of India’s youth and force them to tread on the path of fire (agnipath). The Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav described the scheme as “potentially fatal” for the country’s future.