December 5, 2022

Agnipath: Playing with Fire

Source: PIB

By Maj. Gen. C.P. Singh

Those who feel ‘Security of the Nation’ is costly, can buy Defeat

Professionalism, Leadership, camaraderie, regimentation and battle experience are developed over a period of time. In Agnipath, these battle winning factors will certainly be compromised. Such experiments tinkering with established norms of Defence Forces are better avoided

‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. Defence Forces are a ‘force of deterrence’ and a price that nation state pays for unhindered peaceful growth and prosperity of its citizens. The expenditure on defence should never be considered as extravagance. Those who do not agree, can have a look at Ukraine war. Citizens of Ukraine are subjected to devastation, misery and humiliation, though being a developed nation with luxurious lifestyle. This happened because they did not pay attention to defence preparedness and thought someone else will do that for them.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, flanked by the three Service Chiefs, addressed a press conference on June 14, introducing ‘Agnipath’ concept for entry into Armed Forces. Agnipath is about a four years tenure with defence forces, as soldier/ air warrior/ sea warrior. More than 46,000 Agniveers will be inducted to armed forces this year. Only 25 per cent of these, if found suitable will be absorbed, permanently. The youth and defence aspirants have expressed their anguish by riots, protests and disruptions. Sensing an opportunity to create chaos, they are well supported by opposition parties. I am sure 90 per cent of the protestors don’t even know the details of Agnipath or what they are protesting against. Situation is akin to the ‘Kisan Andolan’.

Defence forces have always maintained exacting selection criteria. By Agnipath entry, we are agreeing to dilute our standards of intake and training. In Army career, first three years are very crucial for having a strong foundation. Absence of long term competence and skill enhancement will not be good

Challenges

  • Soldiering is a serious profession and short term Agniveers will destroy the core competencies of the Army and make the nation’s combat readiness weaker. 
  • Defence forces have always maintained exacting selection criteria. By Agnipath entry, we are agreeing to dilute our standards of intake and training. In Army career, first three years are very crucial for having a strong foundation. Absence of long term competence and skill enhancement will not be good.
  • My other fear is that as the scheme will become old, dull and lackluster, demand for more and more privileges and concessions like options for permanent service/ extensions/ ex-servicemen status/ECHS/ CSD facilities will be raised.  
  • The Agniveers will also be looking at these four years for enhancement of his qualifications, getting awards for trophy display sake and focusing on post defence career options. Soldiering will certainly take a back seat.  
  • A large number of physically fit and weapon trained ex-Agniveers will be available in the society. Not finding a suitable vocation after Defence tenure, they will be tempted to join terrorists, naxals, dacoits and other anti-national elements.  

Better Suggestions

  • Optimising defence budget. Approx 40 per cent of the defence pension budget goes to civilian defence employees which are   about 22 per cent compared to approx. 78 per cent military pensioners. It’s interesting to know that there are 5.85 lakh civilian-defence employees, who are paid from defence budget. Need for  civilian support in the ratio of 1:4 needs introspection.    Additionally, Rs 1,000 crore annually goes on attached Ministry of Finance (MoF) personnel. 

A large number of physically fit and weapon trained ex-Agniveers will be available in the society. Not finding a suitable vocation after Defence tenure, they will be tempted to join terrorists, naxals, dacoits and other anti-national elements.  

  • Induction into CAPF through defence. The most simple method of optimising defence expenditure is to have induction into CAPF and PMF via defence forces, after a tenure of four years. After four years, 75 per cent of Agniveers, who do not make it to permanent cadre in defence should be absorbed directly into CAPF and state police forces. Duplicity of training by Defence and CAPF will be avoided, reducing the training cost. This will resolves all the likely challenges of Agniveers.

Don’t Experiment with Defence

In war, there are no runners up. Either you are a winner or you are not there. For that moment of reckoning, we select the best man and machine for war fighting. It’s the man behind the machine that matters the most. They lead from the front setting personal example of bravery, courage, perseverance and competence. Professionalism, Leadership, camaraderie, regimentation and battle experience are developed over a period of time. In Agnipath, these battle winning factors will certainly be compromised. Such experiments tinkering with established norms of Defence Forces are better avoided.

Conclusion

Expenditure on defence should be taken as insurance on growth and prosperity or a premium to be paid for unhindered growth. In the Army, we are preparing hardcore, battle-worthy and time-tested soldiers, where no compromise is made with the safety and security of the nation.  Four years, with truncated training will be too short a time to mould them into passionate fearless soldiers, ready for combat against trained terrorists and battle-worthy enemy soldiers. Adventures to experiment with the DNA of the Armed Forces and its operational readiness, in the name of ‘economy of resources’ should be best avoided.    

-Maj Gen C P Singh (Retd.) is an Indian Army veteran. A commentator and prolific writer on strategic issues, he can be contacted at www.majgencpsingh.com. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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