Edited excerpts from the interview:
What are your thoughts on the Agnipath scheme?
The scheme is certainly well thought-out. As the armed forces chiefs have pointed out, this has been in discussion and in study for almost two years, and thereafter it has come. The main objective is to make it a leaner, fitter force and give youth a possibility to serve the country, and when they come out after four year, their employment opportunites increase because they are well trained and disciplined. They come out with a corpus and more importantly, those who wish to continue can join the selection process of the army — because 25% of the ‘Agniveers’ will have the opportunity to get selected in regular army services and simultaneously, as announced by the Home Minister, Defence Minister and other ministries that there is a reservation also in the employment of the central and other paramilitary forces like the Assam Rifles to the extent of 10%.
If the scheme is well thought-out like you say, why are there so many widespread protests?
There is a pattern in this country that suddenly a group of a well-organised set of people, politically aligned and from political parties turn everything into an Opposition move, for example the Citizenship Amendment Act. Look at how the information is being disseminated — there are WhatsApp groups which are actually giving instructions on how stones have to be pelted or public property has to be damaged. Then, it leads to a serious question — is this only a genuine protest? Wherever the protests are genuine — in those cases, as information goes out about the scheme, they will understand what is the beauty of it and what are the opportunities that lie ahead. But, those that are motivated and behind it, they are not interested in the merits of the scheme — they only want to foment trouble.
Rahul Gandhi tweeted that like farm laws, PM Modi will be eventually rolling back the Agnipath scheme…
Rahul Gandhi’s entire political journey has been centered around a tweet a day. He is a man without any solutions or answers. If he was prone to having answers, he would have answered all the controversies surrounding him and his family a long time ago. If he had solutions, he perhaps would have helped the Congress party to come out of the morass where he has led them so successfully into.
Has the government given any thought of listening to the demands of the protesters and other Opposition leaders of withdrawing the scheme?
These are political demands without understanding of what the merits of the scheme are. They are out there to somehow create opposition and as far as rolling back of the scheme is concerned, there is no reason at all. It is a win-win for the armed forces – and for those who want to serve the armed forces. So, rolling back something which is a win-win for all goes against every logic.
From 15-17 years to just 4 years of services, with no pension afterwards — Isn’t this a valid concern for many protesters?
It is not everybody who is going to move out after 4 years. First, there is an age relaxation, and after that, there are 25% who have an opportunity to get into the regular services, there are another 10% who get an opportunity to serve the paramilitary forces. And, there will be many, who with a corpus fund, will be employable with great employability skills. The ‘Agniveers’ have already been promised jobs by the central and many state governments. Today, army veterans who come out, get jobs quickly because they are extremely disciplined and well trained. They have a capacity to take responsibility in a good way and I think, this is a great training opportunity also. Most of them get much higher salaries than what they previously got in armed forces (in similar ranks). Above all, serving the armed forces, whether for a short duration or a long duration, is an act of valour, an act of nation-building and an opportunity for the youth to serve their country. Let’s not forget that there has been the Short Service Commission that has existed in the army, which was never for the full tenure.
The chief ministers of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have raised concerns that unemployed, frustrated trained-to-kill youth post training could become a severe law and order headache in the future…
This is not only speculative, but absolutely borne out of politics – it is regrettable. This also comes from a party who questioned the valour of our soldiers in Balakot and the Air Force in the surgical strikes. So those who have never trusted our armed forces will not understand the value of those who serve the armed forces. Very unfortunate coming from two Chief Ministers who have left their constitutional obligation of serving the people of the state and decided to rally around a leader on whom there are grave corruption charges, and who is being investigated by the ED. And then, are they trying to say that those who serve into the army become murderers?