Quoting abrogation of Article 370 in J&K, CDS General Anil Chauhan said India doesn’t need a “written” national security policy (NSP). Can he explain why criticism prevailed through decades that instead of NSP we have instruction in ‘bits and pieces’ in various ministries? Does abrogation of Article 370 constitute NSP? Why did the government in 2010 task NSA Ajit Doval to define NSP? Would a written NSP imply accountability, which the government fears? Social media posts call this “payback time” by Chauhan to his mentor – Doval; since he was under Doval for 8-9 months as a retired three-star officer before being  appointed four-star CDS by tweaking the selection criteria.  

Agniveer Bubble - Jeetendra Singh Tanvar

General Chauhan has also been praising the ‘Agniath’ scheme, brushing aside “some veterans” criticizing it. Significantly, former COAS General MM Naravane wrote in his memoirs that Agnipath was thrust upon the Armed Forces. But neither he nor other Service Chiefs protested. Naravane also mentions his decision to not engage advancing PLA tanks after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s dictum: “Jo Uchit Samjho Karo” – do as you deem fit. One post terms this Naravane’s feeble attempt (due to his Nagpur connection) to absolve the political leadership for the pusillanimous response to China in 2020. But the political hierarchy cannot deny accountability for China’s territorial gains notwithstanding government denials.

The “some veterans”, which the CDS scoffed at for criticizing Agnipath, include Admiral Arun Prakash, former Chief of Naval Staff, whose views can be read here, who says national security is globally considered by economists (not soldiers) – as “the first charge to the treasury” but defence spending in India is relegated to the “unscheduled” category and linking it to veterans pension is another anomaly, which led to Agnipath. 

Lt. Gen. Vijay Oberoi, former Vice Chief of Army Staff and Founder Director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies, whose observations must be read here, writes “the mess created by the government in first announcing a new system of recruitment in the army and then trying to retrieve their bungling, reminds one of a few basic issues one learnt in the 40 years of service in the nation’s army.”

Views of Lt. Gen. Harwant Singh, former Deputy Chief of Army Staff can be read here, who  writes if name alone (Agniveer) could deliver, then much else becomes redundant and in fact superfluous; pointing out that change for the sake of change can result in failure. Similarly, views of Lt. Gen PG Kamath, former Commandant Army War College, can be read here who calls Agnipath a path towards self-immolation with valid reasoning. He questions why the Cabinet Committee on Security did not consult Service Chiefs while discussing Agnipath?  

Can these veterans be considered run of the mill riff-raff? Not many are aware that under bureaucratic pressure, the Army proposed an experiment with 100 officers and 1,000 soldiers for the Tour of Duty – later named Agnipath. But the government stopped regular recruitment for two years, creating massive manpower deficiencies to ensure no protests by the military against en-mass induction of Agniveers.  The fact that RSS out up stalls to sponsor first induction of Agniveers indicated the plan was conceived by the PMO in conjunction with RSS.

Above was preceded by a massive media campaign of military pensions being a heavy burden on defence, leaving little for modernization. But when it appeared in media that 40 percent of defence pensions are consumed by small number of civilian-defence employees, expenditure in other government services (despite national pension scheme) is far greater than Armed Forces and every civilian defence employee is four times more expensive than his/her serving/veteran military counterpart, Defence Minister Ralnath said that Agnipath is not about money – but to bring youthfulness in the Armed Forces. Can he explain in which war the Indian Army (including taking back the incredible heights in Kargil during 1999) experienced lack of youthfulness? And, what assured re-employment is he harping on at the cost of combat effectiveness?  

A perfectly running system of regular recruitment, effective in wars and operations, was replaced by Agnipath, perhaps to: divert attention from the unprecedented high unemployment levels; providing security guards to corporate who fund elections; destroying regimental system of the Army (which has been the bedrock of success in battle) as proclaimed by the NSA and under false pretext of labeling it “colonial”. 

In 4-years, Agniveer s cannot pick up requisite soldierly skills, on-job training is misnomer especially with units widely deployed in operational areas, 25% absorption in military means increasing manpower  shortages;  employment of demobilized Agniveers in police/CAPF is similar to ex-servicemen that has not worked in the past and will imply demobilized Agniveer starting at the very bottom (4-year military service not counted); unemployed Agniveers would be preyed upon by terrorist/militant/goon forces unless the plan is to raise a private armed militia for ethnic cleansing like the 50-60,00 strong armed state-supported Arambai Tengol in Manipur.

Some quote Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, former Western Army Commander who favoured short tenures for soldiers. But this is 2024, not 1965, and short-tenured soldiers have ended up as cannon fodder in the Russian and Ukrainian armies in the Ukraine War.  Operational capability of Agniveers cannot be compared to regular soldiers. Ironically, appeasing China has led policy makers to believe there would be no war. But China is feverishly consolidating along the LAC, has deployed J-20 fighter jets and AWAC at Shiagste and is helping Pakistan consolidate defences along the LoC with India. Looking at the global dynamics and US-NATO warmongering, can our pundits vouch that India will not face war and it will not be a long one?

Not acknowledging damage by Agnipath to the bond between the armies of India and Nepa is naivel. The logic that shortages in Nepalese Gorkha-manned Regiments of the Indian Army is stupid; only helping to break the Army’s regimental system, making all units all-class like police units. This shortsightedness overlooks how it has contributed to Nepal moving further into Beijing’s strategic sphere – joining BRI, Nepalese coins with  maps claiming Indian Territory and allowing China oil exploration in the Terai region. Can we visualize how this helps China’s hybrid war? Do we know how China orchestrated the Hamas attack on Israel last October?

Would the Defence Minister, the NSA and the CDS explain the following?
  • If the Agnipath is so good, why is it not introduced in police/CAPF?
  • Which countries in the world make military pensions part of the defence budget?
  • Is there a secret ‘paid’ agenda to hollow the man behind the machine?
  • Family of a policeman killed fighting drug mafia is awarded Rs one crore compensation and one family member assured  government job but why does family of an Agniveer, like Jitendra Singh Tanwar (inset) killed  in counter insurgency operations, get peanuts

A former COAS, member of the ruling party, has hinted of likely changes in Agnipath.  If these changes are increasing Agniveers military service from 4 to 5 years and absorption in military 50% instead of 25%, it still degrades military capability.  When Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks of 8.2% economic growth being just a beginning and India aims a $7 trillion economy by 2023, why can’t we scrap Agnipath and revert to regular recruitment. The BJP-RSS should not make this a prestige issue.

An erudite veteran-scholar Colonel, who is hardcore BJP, says, “The trick to subjugate an organization is to infect the head, so that the fence starts eating the crop – this is what has been done to the military and ‘yes men’ are dime a dozen – Cry My Beloved Country Cry.” A former Vice Chief of Army Staff writes, “We have a serious handicap…. the import ex China has grown since Galwan in 2020… Our Leaders are looking at just the next elections and no one is willing to recommend guns over butter… We in uniform may crib about it but I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel. We may barter some more land to look good and continue freebies to the teeming masses.”

Finally, the majority view is that saying or writing anything means talking to a wall. The Agnipath bubble will burst in the next war but the noise will be obfuscated by the paid media.

The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.


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11 COMMENTS

  1. Enough has been said about the evils of Agni Veer scheme . My honest opinion it should simply be scrapped and we go back to our old system that was existing and working perfectly well as shown in the Kargil War. Tightening the belt for finances does not start and stop with the defence forces. As a matter of fact some of the politicians are getting as many as five pensions in their services to the nation, personal of the civil services have not been touched for to make up for the finances shortfalls.
    Neither has the government cut on the financial expenditure on any other heads to entitle them to do it for the armed forces. Here I want to remind everyone that this is not the first time when we have have fiddled with the armed forces and burnt our fingers. Just to remind everyone in 1952 Pandit Nehru the first prime minister of India opined that we could do without the army, just a police force would be sufficient. We paid the price for it in 1962. The government must decide whether they want the army to be able to defend and carry out the task assigned to it effectively or is just tokenism enough. I am in UP which is The reservoir that provides maximum number of recruits for the army. Today very few are looking at this scheme and most don’t want to join as Agni Veers .

    The biggest damage that this scheme has done is to harm the great culture in India which urged, which drove the young men to join the armed forces as a matter of honour and not to worry about salary etc. about which the government will take good care. They have been let down in their faith and therefore joining the army as Agni Veer is unpopular.

  2. Mr Deepak Adyanthaya has argued that Agniveer is a good scheme for the youth of the country!! Are we looking at human resources development at the cost of Defence Forces?
    At what cost?! At the cost of national security?
    The selection in a Unit by default will go down from officer level to JCO and NCO level as there is an acute shortage of officers in Infantry Battalions. The corrupt systems of my motherland will percolate to the Defence Forces as parochialism is bound to set in at that level!!
    Leave alone the limited time frame to pick up fighting skills, why would an Agniveer stick his neck out when he can get out with a bounty after four years. Soldiers like Jitender Singh Tanwar are rare commodities perhaps who come from the family of generation soldiers.

  3. How a person fares in life after 15 or 20 years of service will only be known later. Most of your fears of the man being at a disadvantage when he comes out is just speculation. I see most soldiers who are here, out after 15 years of service, with a family to support, they have joined banks not as security guards or unskilled labour but as clerks, risen to officer rank and become managers, become administrators in schools and colleges, joined other govt. services of which there no shortage and with the present policy of govt. and private companies showing a desire to absorb Agniveers, I see no problem. Additionally the pay package is not meagre in any case. That is why the Agniveers start life as new recruits but with 4 years of experience. There is about 25 lakhs additional money in his kitty. That he will not know where the money went is something that can happen to anyone if the person splurges. The aim of the scheme is to reduce the age profile of the defence forces, give young men and women a short stint in the defence forces, inculcate discipline in them, the mental makeup to work hard and become successful in life while providing them with some seed money to start some business.
    As you say pension is a different matter and the govt. has been deliberating on it for a long, long time and has decided to stop it for most govt. jobs and has introduced the NPS. The pension burden on govt. finances can become difficult to manage. Pension is not a favour the govt. is doing and NPS provides just that without being a burden on the govt. Remember that the govt. is not an employment agency. And it is not only govt. servants who work all their lives. Ultimately the burden of such expenses is borne by the taxpayer who is also struggling all his life. The fear is that over time it becomes a burden on the govt. and consequently on the tax payer who finances it.

    • The basic question is, what is the commitment of an agniveer, who joins eagarly, dreaming – for the end of his 4 or 5 year tenure, to collect the “substancial” money – and settle down, compared to a regular recruit offering his voluntary service till he is young and fighting fit?
      What happens to the “dreaming” agniveer, when the first shell lands near him, and what will be his responce? A single casuality takes away 4 to 6 fighting men off the front. Can war afford this. What message their casuality numbers will deliver back home? What impact would that be on fresh recruits? The babus sitting in Delhi least know this. Because, their wards are kept away from such experiments!
      Government need not be right everytime! There is more sence in rethinking. Take the front line commanders into confidence. They are the actual users! Please try.

  4. Gen Katoch has hit the nail on the head. A few constituents of the new NDA have already begun demanding a revisit to the Agniveer scheme. The aim appears to be “Disarm the Armed Forces & arm the CAPF”. Yes, the bubble is waiting to burst.

  5. Dear Deepak,
    You have taken the issue in a very different angle. No scheme is good or bad unless it is tested and analysed. Reason attributed to commencement of Agni Veer concept is not expenditure on pension but maintaining youthful services. Most OR retire at or around 40 years of age and in no way old. It has been repeatedly proven that the current system of Regimentation and camaraderie definitely influences performance. Today an AV recruit has the sword of Damocles hanging over his head. You as as SS officer would be aware of the schedules within a Battalion / Regiment. Apart from regular PT, no manpower is available for training in a peace station. In field conditions, one is always on his toes and taking timeout for training is negligible. So under such conditions what do you expect from an AV. After four years assuming an individual gets to be retained, he starts afresh as his previous service is not considered. He has only 15 years colour service so at best would rise to an NCO rank. Once out, they have to start all over again and with no pension or medical support it is as good as a recruit but now with a family, school going children, aged parents and above all no current income. Is it fair for a soldier to rough it out for nearly 20 years and then come back to starting point.
    In case the AV is not retained, what is his speciality for a job in the corporate sector ? He can at best be an errand boy or security guard or on some menial job. Again it is not fair as by now his physical fitness would have improved, knowledge of basic weapons gained. The money they get will vanish in no time and facing the civilian world without any additional skill set will only cause more frustrations.
    You and I passed out together and you chose to leave but after struggle succeeded. Are you aware of our brothers who either quit like you or we’re not granted permanent commission still struggling. Not everyone is lucky.
    Stopping recruitment for over two years, employment on anti terror units, postings with sister organisations such as NSG, RR, AR to name a few leaves a regular unit highly understaffed. When time comes, it is the regular unit that is called upon to save the nation. With shortage of manpower and increased commitments our primary role will surely be jeopardised.

    It will be a good idea to assess the ground realities and have meaningful discussions with the stake holders. The same Agni Veer concept can be introduced with suitable rectification.

    As far as pension goes, it is not a charity but the payment for service rendered. It is the right to lead a dignified life after hanging your boots.

  6. The Agnipath scheme is a novel one introduced with more than required hype though. The scheme is good for the youth and encourages youth to become independent entrepreneurs aftera short stint in the armed forces, with a suitable pay and lump sum package on release. The soldiers recruited under this scheme must be treated as regular soldiers which I doubt they are. In case of battle casualties, ‘Agniveers’ must be treated on par with other soldiers.
    Just because civilian employees and police are treated differently does not mean that this scheme is bad. It has to be properly implemented by officers and tweaked to yield best results. Required improvements need to be made from time to time to make the scheme workable and achieve the objective for which it was introduced. Is the SS Commission scheme for Officers not good?
    I myself was an SS officer. After 5 years I opted out. I became an entrepreneur by choice though I had a lien on my previous job in a Bank or I could have opted for PRC. Initially I struggled. Though not very successful initially, I stabilised over time. Many of my coursemates went on to become Colonels, Brigadiers, Maj.Generals and one even became a Lt.Gen. They are drawing handsome pensions. But I have absolutely no regrets. I struggled in industry, then agriculture and became successful over time. Compared to the old SS scheme, the present day one is even better and gratuity on discharge after 14 years service is pretty good.
    This business of employing young men and women for 15 or 20 years and sending them home with a pension is nothing but a waste of manpower and a national waste of resources. The govt. must make good use of them upto 60 or 65 years of age. Let them retire with NPS to support themselves after retirement. Paying pensions is an outdated concept. Good it has been stopped for all except the defence forces. Civilian employees under the defence ministry too must be put there in the NPS. Parity with regard to pay pensions and allowances must be maintained between the paramilitary and the armed forces.
    Maintaining parity between different cadres is the obligation of the govt. and representing the interest of their respective branches in the govt. is the duty of the senior officers in the department. If that is done promptly there should be no anomalies as stated.
    It must be noted that govt. service is more a service to the people. It is not an avenue for people to get rich. Politicians achieve that because of corruption and misuse of official privileges. If one wants to become wealthy, the option is entrepreneurship and business where the risks are huge and rewards are equally big.

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