It is truly unfortunate that a union minister as well as a top BJP leader intervened in the raging discourse on the Agnipath scheme with their crass formulations. While Minister for Culture and Tourism G Kishan Reddy said that training in the armed forces will give Agniveers skills to become a driver, peon, cook and washerman after retirement, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya went a step further by declaring his intent to hire the soldiers as security guards at the Bharatiya Janata Party offices. This volatile and sensitive debate could have done without this vulgarism. Being a soldier comes with a sense of pride; both the youth and his family get special status in society because the job involves service to the nation. Soldiers are expected to make the supreme sacrifice to protect the country's borders, and that’s what puts them on a higher pedestal. What they do after retirement to make a living is up to them to decide, but political leaders predicting their future as drivers, peons and security guards is uncouth and shameful. We demand greater sophistication from our leaders.
Though violence and vandalism cannot be appreciated under any circumstances, the nervousness and dismay among the youth aspiring to join the army is understandable. Spontaneous protests, without any leadership to guide the course of action, often turn violent. They need to be handled with compassion. While the opposition parties have appealed for peace and restraint, the ruling establishment should have engaged more purposefully to defuse the crisis. While it is inexplicable why Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah chose to stay aloof, the BJP, which commands a massive support base in the troubled states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, should have communicated with the agitated youth with clearer intent. But the government preferred to push the service chiefs forward to do the talking. While they did well in explaining the new recruitment scheme to the youth, veiled threats about those indulging in vandalism not being allowed to appear for selection were avoidable. Let the administration and the police do their best to maintain law and order, but the army brass must appear non-partisan and compassionate. After all, these youth were under abnormal pressure because recruitment hadn’t happened for three years and they were faced with the age problem. At a time when India is grappling with an unprecedented unemployment crisis, the job-seekers' frustration must be viewed with sympathy.
That Bihar witnessed maximum violence bears testimony to the fact that reactions were the outcome of the gravity of the unemployment crisis. There is a section of youth, particularly in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal who see the opportunities in Armed Forces as the simplest path to salvation. With limited education and intellectual capacities, these youth work exceptionally hard to become soldiers, and their dreams come crashing down in case of failure. A large number of youth had already cleared physical tests and they panicked after those were rendered null and void. It is the duty of the establishment to handle these angry youth with care and convince them that justice will be done. The prime minister, who enjoys enormous support among these young people, was the most suitable person to convince them in this hour of crisis.
There are arguments against and in support of the Agnipath scheme which was indisputably introduced without adequate consultations. The government should have anticipated the violent reactions. There is no point blaming the opposition parties whose capacities to whip up passions have been substantially whittled down over the years. The opposition obviously stepped in when the crisis deepened, but mishandling by the Centre and state governments cannot be overstated. Bihar faced the worst incidents because the Janata Dal-U and the BJP were not on the same page in handling the situation. After the farm laws fiasco, the Modi government and the BJP should have been more cautious and alert about the consequences of radical measures. The nation expects the prime minister to lead from the front under these extraordinary circumstances. He is still the leader the nation looks up to. The weird idea of his silence in times of turbulence is harming both the nation and the BJP. The prime minister has grossly underutilised his goodwill among the masses in solving the problems. If the nation could erupt in “taali-thali” on his call, an appeal from him can certainly have a calming effect on the seething crowds. Modi-centric politics has not only empowered him, it has also brought upon him additional responsibilities.