Take back ‘Agnipath’, avoid repeat of farm laws: Pilot to govt

He argued that there should have been a pilot project, some impact study and then perhaps a decision could have been reached

New Delhi: Congress leader Sachin Pilot on Sunday urged the government not to be “stubborn” and immediately withdraw the new military recruitment scheme Agnipath for wider consultations to avoid a repeat of the farm laws episode.

He also asserted that the country had been kept “on a permanent boil” in the last few years, and a culmination of factors such as rejection of the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, unemployment and economic and agrarian distress had resulted in the “severe backlash” from the youth.

In an interview with PTI, Pilot said the government should stop blaming Opposition for the “genuine” grievance of the youth and avoid the blame game it had indulged in during the farm laws agitation.

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“This has nothing to do with the Opposition. It is a genuine grievance of young people. They (government) must listen to their voice and not be stubborn in their decision-making, review and revise, but for now they must withdraw it (scheme),” Pilot, who is himself a Captain in the Territorial Army, said.

“They (government) took one year and a lot of political compulsions for farm laws to be withdrawn. This is even more serious, involving the future of the youth, and they must put a stop on this policy immediately,” the former Union minister said.

This government is known for not listening to anybody, he said, adding that the Centre should act as a guardian of the country and “not be stubborn”.

Pilot alleged that in the last few years, it has been seen that the country has been “purposely kept on a permanent boil” and there is acrimony in society as well as negativity in the atmosphere with issues of communities, castes, regions and religions coming to the fore.

“These (protesting) youngsters are all from rural background. They see their families in long-term financial stress and debt, and then you have inflation, joblessness, it leads to insecurities and on top of that good opportunity of serving in the armed forces, that also you take away, so it is a culmination of all those issues that has resulted in the severe backlash we are seeing,” Pilot said.

Hitting out at the dispensation, the Congress leader said the government’s attitude is to legislate first and discuss later, and what was happening with the Agnipath scheme was similar to the manner when it brought the three farm laws supposedly for the benefit of the farming community.

It took one year of sustained farmers’ agitation to withdraw the agriculture laws, he noted.

Similarly, in this situation, the government came up with the Agnipath scheme and then in a “knee-jerk” reaction after the announcement of the initial scheme, it has come up with a slew of changes, he said.

All these reactions are indicative of the fact that the policy was not well thought out, Pilot said.

“We must remember who are the people who go for armed forces jobs. It is primarily families of farmers, those from rural areas and children with humble backgrounds. Scores of young people have not just aspirations to get a job, but to don the olive green uniform of the armed forces,” he said.

“My worry is the following young people will lose out the opportunity to serve this country as patriots and soldiers. The issue has become more grave because there is acute joblessness, unemployment is at a record high.

“So people are feeling cheated and the recruitment policy of the entire armed forces has been dramatically changed which will have an impact on the functionality, the effectiveness, the structure, and the ecosystem in which platoons, units and battalions operate,” Pilot said.

He argued that there should have been a pilot project, some impact study and then perhaps a decision could have been reached, as opposed to just dramatically altering the recruitment policy altogether.

Asked about the violent protests and whether they would continue till the government takes back the Agnipath scheme, Pilot said the Congress has appealed to the young people not to become violent and not to take law in their own hands because damaging public property will serve no purpose.

“They can protest peacefully, they have the right to protest, they are genuinely angry. We in the Congress party empathize with the cause for which the young people are up in arms…. We have made it clear that we are with the sentiments of the young people and they should immediately stop this policy. They must not wait,” Pilot said.

“I would genuinely urge the government to avoid any further acrimony and confrontation, stop this policy and have a rethink,” he said.

Pointing out the problems in the scheme, Pilot said there is a total of four years tenure and specialized training is required beyond the six months so the effective service time would be extremely limited under the scheme.

Pilot also argued that there are two active borders with Pakistan and China, and asked whether it would be wise to take a chance with the armed forces’ preparedness and effectiveness at this crucial juncture.

He said when it comes to policy formulation of the government, there is lack of consultation and discussion with a sort of ad hoc announcement and forcing of policy.

“This imposing of your thoughts and policies on 1.3 billion people, I do not think is workable,” Pilot said.

The Centre on Saturday announced several incentives, including reserving 10 per cent vacancies in the defence ministry and paramilitary forces, for Agnipath retirees as violent protests raged on against the new military recruitment scheme in many states, and opposition parties stepped up pressure for its rollback.

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