ALTHOUGH THE PROTESTS against Agnipath have diminished, the debate continues, not only among veterans and wannabes, but also among serving personnel. The concerns are mainly about Agniveers being out of work after serving four years. There are also fears that the project could end the centuries-old regimental ethos that has made the Indian Army one of the best fighting machines in the world. However, military leaders welcomed the project. Of the leaders, Admiral R. Hari Kumar was the loudest, calling it “transformational”. Excerpts from an interview:
You called transformational Agnipath. Could you explain how this can transform the armed forces?
There are four reasons. First, the program will reduce the average age of our services by about four to five years. This youthful profile, in itself, is a transformative change that we have been seeking for a considerable time, especially following the recommendations of the Kargil Review Board. Second, Agnipath will improve our combat readiness and operational effectiveness by tapping into our young techies. Infusing more Agniveers each year will give us an edge in fast-paced and technologically intense conflicts. Third, this program will lead to an optimal mix of young executives and experience. The permanent cadre would be made up of experienced staff recruited after four years of service. The young cadre, serving for four years, will form the base. Fourth, with a steady stream of trained, disciplined, skilled, and motivated Agniveers joining the national workforce, the program will play a vital role in our nation’s growth, prosperity, and transformation.
The concern is with the 75%. 100 who must leave after four years. They would have preference in the paramilitaries and the police. But the annual contribution of these forces does not exceed a few thousand people. In addition, their training and operational philosophy are different from those of the armed forces.
There will of course be differences in terms of training and operational philosophy, but the commonalities will outweigh these. Let me elaborate. The effectiveness of paramilitary forces depends on the strength of their trained personnel. With an output of approximately 46,000 Agniveers per year, our paramilitary forces will be able to tap into this vast potential to bolster their force levels with well-trained, weapons-proficient and self-disciplined personnel in the prime of the world. age, exposed to a plethora of disciplines, including operational deployments, disaster relief operations, rescue missions and administrative duties. The Agniveers would only need a transition course to integrate into the paramilitary forces.
Serving in the army was considered a prestige and an honor in the villages. Added to this is the allure of the pension, widow’s pension, increased value of the so-called marriage market, medical facilities and alcohol quotas, etc. that an ex-soldier enjoys. The Agniveer would get none. Wouldn’t he be considered someone who lost his job.
No. On the contrary, it would further strengthen the status of Agniveers in our society. First, serving the national army with the commitment to apply the orderly application of force under unlimited responsibility is an honor for every citizen. It is this unlimited liability that distinguishes the military profession from all others. In India, a soldier, whether he has served for four years or 40 years, will always retain the honor and dignity accorded by an evolved and mature society.
But he has no job after four years…
During their service tenure, Agniveers will acquire tangible and intangible benefits, qualities, and skills. Concretely, they will transform themselves into experienced, capable, well-trained and highly qualified people who understand the dignity of work. On the intangible side, they will benefit immensely from some of the best leadership practices and management skills. In addition, at the end of four years, they will receive different levels of certification and credit points to enable them to continue their studies. Upon release after four years, they will be ready for absorption by defense PSUs, business, government organizations and security agencies such as CAPFs. Additionally, at the end of the four-year commitment period, Agniveers will receive a one-time tax-free Seva Nidhi package of Rs11.71 lakh.
There is also the matter of regimental culture. The soldier, it is said, fights for his buddy, the honor of his company, his regiment, etc. How can an 18 to 23 year old be expected to have these regimental values ingrained in their minds, only to forget about them after four years?
The question of regimental culture refers to what is called social cohesion in managerial practices. In the armies, in addition to social cohesion, we also seek task cohesion, which places the accomplishment of the mission as the primary source of motivation. In the Navy, we’ve been structured such that an officer or a sailor stays on one team for about two to three years, sometimes even less, and then moves on to another team.
How is cohesion achieved in such circumstances?
In each of our units, we have a smaller cohesive unit called a division, which is usually about 11 people. The division is a group of junior sailors, senior sailors and a divisional officer who have a common professional task to perform. The accomplishment of the tasks entails their interactions leading to the cohesion of the tasks. Working together creates personal bonds or social cohesion. The composition of the team continues to evolve, but the spirit of solidarity, both personally and professionally, endures. This would build teamwork and camaraderie in every Agniveer.
One of the main objectives of this scheme is to reduce the pension bill. But as CDS, General Bipin Rawat had put forward the idea of raising the retirement age for soldiers from 55 to 58 years. Has this proposal been considered?
As the Minister of Defense indicated at the launch of Agnipath, there is no financial imperative or consideration attached to the program. The honorable minister specifically mentioned that the government does not view the armed forces and the security of the nation from a financial point of view.
The program was launched to give a younger profile to the armed forces based on the recommendations of various committees such as the Kargil Review Committee. The increase in length of service was a different proposal and is unrelated to the Agnipath scheme.
There was little discussion in parliamentary committees or think tanks before the program was announced. Wouldn’t such a debate, as we had in the case of the CDS and theater commands, have helped to soften the rough edges of the scheme?
Let me assure you that there have been extensive discussions, debates and deliberations within the Armed Forces down to the field level, in the Ministry of Defense and in all relevant Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies. It was only after such rigor over the past two years that the government approved the project with the full agreement of the armed forces.