Trains burnt in Agnipath protest

Bihar saw the maximum damage to public property and police action where a BJP MLA was attacked

New Delhi/Patna/Bhopal: The Centre’s decision to bring in a new short-term recruitment scheme — “Agnipath” — for the country’s youth to join the armed forces has met with stiff resistance from youngsters as violent sporadic protests rocked several parts of North India for the second consecutive day on Thursday. Bihar saw the maximum damage to public property and police action where a BJP MLA was attacked and the bogies of trains set on fire by agitated crowds.

In Haryana, a 23-year-young aspirant committed suicide in Rohtak. He had reportedly passed the medical and physical tests and was waiting for the final exam to join the Army.

The youth are demanding a rollback of the new “transformative” military recruitment scheme, saying that the four-year job provides no security to them and will leave them unemployed and discriminated against after being thrown out of the armed forces at the end of their term. Violent protests were reported from Delhi, UP, Uttarakhand, MP, Hary-ana, Jammu and Rajas-than. In some states, the protesters turned violent and burnt railway bogies and police vehicles, forcing the police to order lathi-charge and fire teargas to disperse the protesters.

In Bihar, the protesters blocked roads, vandalised businesses and disrupted rail and road traffic in several places. Ara, Buxar, Chhapra, Gopalganj, Jehanabad, Kaimur, Munger and Nawada were the worst affected. In Nawada, the vehicle of BJP MLA Aruna Devi was attacked while she was on her way to a court. She said the protesters seemed to have been provoked by the sight of the party flag, fitted on her car, which they tore up.

The protesters torched trains and parked vehicles in Ara and the police had to use teargas to disperse them. As the violent protests escalated, the administration increased security personnel at the railway stations and other places. Railway bogies were also set on fire at Bhabua and Chhapra stations. According to police officials here, no casualties were reported from the state.

Candidates preparing for jobs in the armed forces have been upset over the short-term contract introduced under the “Agnipath” scheme and are demanding the reinstatement of the old system. They fear that under the new policy, in which only 25 per cent would get permanent commissions in the service, the rest will be left with no jobs.

“We have been preparing for jobs in the armed forces for the past two years and now the government has come up with a scheme to retire us. Under this new policy, many of the candidates who are preparing for jobs in the defence services will be left with nothing after the completion of four years. Only 25 per cent will get permanent service in the Army. We want the government to reinstate the previous recruitment system”, the protesters in Bihar said.

“Only a few will be retained. What will happen to the rest? Who will hire them? Working for the armed forces is a matter of pride for a young man who is ready to give his life for the sake of the country. But if the same man is sent back home after four years, he will be seen as unfit. In our society, he will be seen as a subject of ridicule,” said another youth in Bihar who was a part of the protest.

In Haryana, the police fired shots to disperse protesters outside the Palwal deputy commissioner’s office. The protesters had also set ablaze three police vehicles in the area. Internet services were suspended in Palwal district for 24 hours. Many districts across Haryana witnessed protests, including Gurgaon.

Protests were also reported from many parts of Uttar Pradesh such as Ballia, Unnao, Gonda and Bulandshahar. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath appealed to the youth not to get misguided over the issue and “grab the opportunity to serve Mother India”. Mr Adityanath has already announced that “Agniveers” will be given priority in the state police and other sectors.

In Delhi, a protest was held at Nangloi rail station. In Madhya Pradesh, around 200 protesters in Gwalior blocked roads and confronted security personnel by pelting stones at them. The mob also attacked Birlanagar railway station and vandalised it. They also pelted stones at the Bhind-Ratlam Inter-City Express standing at the railway station, damaging its AC coaches. Ten people, including two journalists, were injured in the incident. The rioters were being identified from CCTV cameras installed at various places in the city and will be arrested soon, the police said.

The Central government is facing criticism from various quarters. BJP leader Varun Gandhi said: “The corporate sector does not even hire regular military personnel who quit the armed forces after 15 years, and therefore, the soldiers who retire under the “Agnipath” scheme will have no future prospects.” Former Punjab chief minister and BJP ally Capt. Amarinder Singh suggested a rethink on the entire Agnipath scheme and wondered why the government had to make such “radical” changes. Rajya Sabha MP V. Sivadasan wrote to defence minister Rajnath Singh urging the government “to withdraw the present move to contractualise the armed forces of our country”.

Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram said the “Agnipath” scheme was “controversial, carries multiple risks, subverts the long-standing traditions and ethos of the armed forces and there’s no guarantee that soldiers recruited under the scheme will be better trained & motivated to defend the country.”

The Centre has rejected all the criticism and issued a clarification on Thursday in a “Myths vs Facts” document which said a financial package and bank loan scheme will be extended for those wishing to be entrepreneurs and those wishing to study further will be given a Class 12 equivalent certificate and bridging course. Those wishing to obtain jobs will be given priority in the paramilitary forces and state police units and “several avenues are also being opened up for them in other sectors”.

The Union finance ministry, meanwhile, held a meeting with the chief executives of public sector banks, insurance companies and financial institutions in New Delhi on Thursday to identify ways to support the “Agniveers” after they complete their four-year tenure of duty in the armed forces

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