The demand for rollback of the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the defense services has gathered momentum after the results of the general elections were announced with even ex-servicemen voicing concern demanding its total recall.

With the results not going the BJP way as was predicted by some psephologists and the exit polls, political experts are now saying that the anger among the youth against the tour duty style of recruitment for armed forces translated into votes against the ruling coalition.

Most opposition parties, particularly the Congress, had made it a poll plank during their electoral campaign in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan — the states that make for a major chunk of soldiers in the armed forces.

In Punjab, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi made it a point to raise the Agnipath issue in his election speeches and even visited the family of an Agniveer in a village near Ludhiana who had died in an ambush in Rajouri in Jammu and Kashmir in January this year. .

In the past couple of days, BJP’s key allies and partners in NDA, Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), as well as Opposition parties such as Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Samajwadi Party have raised demands that the Agniveer recruitment scheme must be revisited and that it should be rolled back.

Festive offer

The issue of the truncated service conditions of Agnipath scheme, which caters for only retention of 25 per cent of the recruits in permanent service while the rest are to be eased out by giving a lumpsum severance of Rs 11.71 lakh, had found much resonance in the Traditional recruiting grounds of the defense services in the three northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, apart from UP, Bihar and Rajasthan.

Capitalizing on the dissatisfaction with the Agnipath scheme, Gandhi made a visit to the house of Agniveer Ajay Singh, a 23 year old who died in an ambush in Rajouri in January this year. Singh was a brother to six sisters, his father is a daily wage laborer, and his mother works as a domestic help. The family resides in a one-room house in Ramgarh Sardaran village in Ludhiana.

A day before Punjab and Himachal Pradesh went to polls on June 1, Gandhi wrote a letter to President Droupadi Murmu, requesting her to step in and ensure that all jawans of the Army get equal treatment with regard to terms of service.

“I write to you as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of India, with an appeal to provide justice to Agniveers, who laid down their lives in service to the nation. The discrimination in the nature and extent of benefits accorded to the families of our slain Agniveers, compared to regular soldiers warrants your urgent attention,” he wrote.

In this letter, Gandhi specifically mentioned his visit to the house of Agniveer Ajay. “He made the supreme sacrifice this January in a landmine blast near the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district. Like every Indian, I was heartbroken by his martyrdom. Ajay’s promising life was tragically cut short at such a young age. In addition, I was also shocked to find his family living in abject poverty. I met his six sisters, and parents, who work as daily wage laborers, in their single-room home. His family shared stories about Ajay’s life. Despite losing their son, they were proud of his sacrifice in service to the nation. However, they also described the shocking apathy and insensitivity displayed by the government in the aftermath of his death.

Ajay’s family has received none of the lifetime benefits or social security that the families of regular soldiers receive. This means they will not get a pension, medical facilities, assistance for education, or preference in employment,” wrote Gandhi.

The Congress MP went on to state that the Agnipath scheme has led to the creation of a “lesser” cadre of soldiers who are expected to work on similar tasks with lower pay, benefits and prospects.

A day before Gandhi wrote to the Murmu, the Leader of Opposition in Punjab Assembly, Partap Singh Bajwa held a press conference flanked by two retired Lt Generals in Jalandhar where he highlighted the flaws in the Agnipath scheme. Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd) and Lt Gen JS Dhaliwal (retd) raised the demand that the old recruitment system of the defense services should be reverted to and the Agnipath scheme should be shelved.

Following the election results and political comments made regarding the Agnipath scheme, many retired military officers have made similar demands of scrapping the scheme.

In a post on X, Maj Gen Yash Mor (retd) wrote, “Whoever forms the government in Delhi the lowest hanging fruit is the total recall of Agniveer scheme. I have stuck my neck out on this disastrous scheme since it came as a “bolt from the blue”. This must be canceled in one go. Give chance to those who were denied recruitment, give a one time waver. Hoping to get the best young people in the forces”.

Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (retd), who served as Director General Military Operations (DGMO), wrote on X: “The Agneepath scheme needs to be shelved. It will be a good move. The old system met the aspirations of our youth as well as enhanced armed forces operational readiness and defense preparedness”.

In the Army, two batches of 40,000 Agniveers have already completed training and are under posting. The third batch of 20,000 began training in November 2023. In the Navy, three batches of 7,385 Agniveers have completed training. In the IAF, 4,955 Agniveer Vayu trainees have completed training.