No big change can come unaccompanied by stiff resistance and opposition. Those who lack imagination will always viscerally amplify the lacunae or dangers, real or imagined, of a radically different new idea, or disruptive innovation, without really allowing all its benefits to be discussed or understood. So it is with the Agnipath programme.
As an idea, the Agnipath, in which the Indian Armed Forces would recruit youth between the ages of 17 and 21 years for a period of four years, is a paradigm shift away from tradition. They would be recruited on an all-India level, reducing highly localised regimental recruitment, and help lower the age of various regiments, and the forces overall, giving a quick fill-up to the human resource shortage.
It would drastically cut the future salary and pension bills that would otherwise be entailed in recruiting such a large number of direct recruits at the entry level. It would give the forces a better base to choose from; a fourth of these youth, after four years of training and grooming, are to be considered for absorption on a longer-term commission basis.
It would, without the abhorrent conscription service or large-scale military school infrastructure, create a strong base of people for the forces to conduct the routine recruitment and retention of people required for the future, aligning them to our strategic defence needs.
A uniform recruitment policy, and a principled spreading of the catchment scope will augment the regional diversity in the Indian Armed Forces.
At the end of the four years, the Agniveers will have had an extraordinary training and service experience, which will yet give them the flexibility to make a choice — a more informed choice — at a more matured age, if they wish to continue in the forces for a lifetime.
Those who leave, having served, would have a plethora of opportunities ahead for them — there can be no greater university or passion school than the four years of a regimental life. It would cast them, to paraphrase in a bit of a slogan, a soldier for a term, a wonderful human being for life. From police forces, paramilitary, security to the private sector or entrepreneurship, these youth will have a better chance at life; and would always remain at hand for the country if ever such a call be needed.
The money saved on salaries and pensions, after having met the requirement for human power, could be invested for more strategic, weaponry and technological upgrade needs of the country’s fighting force. Such people will give our entire civilian society a good set of role models in every aspect of life.
The violent protests against the scheme, even without having fully understood that everyone gains and no one really loses, except the inconvenience of deviation from traditional habits and making a transformation, are political surface reactions.
It is a programme that has been discussed threadbare to its final bone during the last few years and met with the approval of the three service chiefs.
Without a doubt, while we debate its shortcomings and mitigate them with reform and tweaks along the way, the Agnipath has the firepower to last the Agnipareeksha ahead.