BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya on Sunday sought to defend the Centre's Agnipath scheme for military recruitment, which is facing stiff opposition from various quarters, saying if he has to appoint security personnel as his party office, he would give priority to those who have served as Agniveers.
His remark soon kicked up a row, with some prominent political leaders, including his party colleague MP Varun Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, besides several netizens slamming him for it. The Madhya Pradesh Congress demanded an apology from the BJP for "insulting" the defence forces.
Under fire for the statement, Vijayvargiya later said what he meant was that the excellence of Agniveers will be utilised in whichever field they choose after completing service in the defence forces. He also accused the "toolkit gang" of twisting his remark to insult the "Karmveer".
The Centre on Tuesday announced the Agnipath scheme for four-year contractual military recruitment that has sparked protests in many parts of the country and is being questioned by many parties. The soldiers to be recruited under this plan will be called Agniveers.
Addressing a press conference at the BJP office here, Vijayvargiya, while describing the benefits of the scheme, said the youth would develop qualities like discipline and obedience, which is part of army's training.
"In army training, first is discipline and second is following orders. He (Agniveer) will undergo training and when he comes out (of the armed forces) after four years of service, he would have Rs 11 lakh in his hand. And he would also walk around with the badge of Agniveer on his chest," he said.
"If I have to recruit security (personnel) here in this BJP office, I will give priority to Agniveer," the senior BJP leader added.
A video of his statement went viral on social media platforms.
Tagging the video in his tweet, Varun Gandhi questioned Vijayvargiya and said army is a medium to serve 'Maa Bharti' (mother India).
"Our great army's heroic tales cannot be expressed with mere words and its valour echoes in the entire world," Gandhi said, accusing the BJP national general secretary of offering the job of a "chowkidar" (watchman) to soldiers after retirement.
"Indian Army is a means to serve mother India, not merely a job," Gandhi said.
Delhi CM and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener Kejriwal termed it an insult of the youths and army personnel of the country.
"Do not disrespect the youth and army personnel of the country so much. The youth of our country work hard day and night to pass the physical exam and clear test because they want to serve the country and not because they want to be a guard outside the BJP office," Kejriwal said in a tweet.
K K Mishra, chairman of the media department of Madhya Pradesh Congress, also criticised Vijayvargiya for the statement.
"Agniveers, who will be recruited (in the armed forces) only for four years, will be later appointed as security guards at the BJP office. This is a big insult of the unemployed youth and the valour of the armed forces. BJP should apologise," he said in a tweet.
Several other social media users also slammed the senior BJP leader for his statement.
However, Vijayvargiya later blamed the toolkit gang for the controversy.
"Agniveers who complete their service under the Agnipath scheme will definitely be trained and committed to their duties. This excellence will be utilised in the fields they choose after completing the service in the army. This was what I clearly meant," he said in a tweet.
He alleged that people associated with the 'toolkit gang' were trying to insult the "Karmveers" by distorting his statement.
"This would be an insult to the Karmveers of the country. The nation is well aware of the conspiracies of this toolkit gang against the Rashtraveer and Dharmveer," he added.
"Discipline and following orders are ingrained in military training. Once they return from the four-year training, from 17-and-half years to 23 years, even if someone joins at 21, the person would be 25 when the tour of duty ends, have Rs 11 lakh in hand and an Agniveer badge, if I have to hire a security guard for this BJP office, I will choose an Agniveer," Vijayvargiya told reporters.
Amid the violent protests by military aspirants on the 'Agnipath' scheme, the BJP leader had said 'Agniveers' would be efficient and resourceful people once they return to society after military training.
BJP MP Varun Gandhi also tweeted a criticism of his party leader over the "security guard comment".
"The great army...whose valour resonates across the whole world, gets an invitation to be a chowkidar of a political office. Congratulations to the one who gave it. The Indian Army is a medium of service for Mother India, and not just another job," Mr Gandhi tweeted.