According to a report released by the voluntary organization ‘Satark Nagrik Sangathan’ (SNS) quoted in the media, over 3,00,000 appeals and complaints were pending on June 30,  2022 in the 26 information commissions including the central information commission. As the RTI Act completed 17 years on October 12, 2022, the report released by SNS shows that the 12 commissions have an estimated waiting time of one year or more to dispose of a matter.

It was therefore surprising that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) promptly replied to an RTI question wanting to know what was behind the decision to thrust the Agnipath scheme on the Armed Forces; Agniveers with just 4-month training doing 4-years in the military, after which 25 percent would be retained and balance 75 percent released with half-baked skills. But the questioner was also surprised by the reply which said that the reason is ‘secret’ which cannot be disclosed.

Since then, the chatterati is fired up in trying to decipher what that secret could be. One guy says it could be linked to Rajnath Singh accepting the ‘gift’ of a double-storey bungalow from Ghaziabad public after being elected MP in 2009 but not  bothering about that constituency knowing he would contest from elsewhere next time. This is too wild a guess, absurd and can hardly be linked to Agnipath. Besides, isn’t such a conduct routine for politicians?

Another speculation is that Rajnath hopes a Ministry of Agniveers would come up which he can head after the 2024 elections rather than being sidelined as Marg Darshak. Interestingly, the “use and throw” remark by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari has caused many to frown and sulk. Applying the Agnipath scheme pan-India perhaps is being thought of but would it include politicians also, given that the ‘focused’ ones earn enough for next few generations in a single tenure?

Some say the copycat division in the government is behind the scheme looking at the short-tenure PLA soldiers and Russians in Ukraine – don’t mind the PLA casualties in the Galwan Clash and the Russian experience in Ukraine. After all, we are a peace loving nation and do not believe in war. We must also reduce our army strength by 2,00,000 because China has done so. Why bother that China still has the largest military and eyes our territory.    

The more serious discussion is about the ‘Deep-State Doctrine’; placing police forces above the Armed Forces, with the glorious history of the Indian National Army (INA) compared to the dismal performance of the Indian Military in all the wars and conflicts to-date and riding on the glory of the Mukti Bahini liberating Bangladesh? For the same reason the ITBP is planned to be put in the front tier all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) against China.

China has deployed Border Guard Divisions ahead of the PLA.  So what if they are placed under command the PLA? We don’t have to copy the Chinese in total letter and spirit. After, all the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) report and the follow up Group of Ministers (GoM) report had both recommended that the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) can be deployed at the borders to ‘augment’ the Army but must be placed ‘under command’ of the Army.

Sure the GoP was headed by the then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister but when we did not abide by that report fully, where is the question of placing the ITBP or any other CAPF on the border under the Army? After all with the ITBP in front, didn’t we avoid conflict with China in 2020 in Eastern Ladakh? Losing control of over a 1,000 sq kms of territory is hardly anything between friends – or to our big brother?

With the Army in the second tier, Agniveers with 4-month training would more than suffice. Needlessly, some critters are cribbing about the cutting edge getting weakened because of Agniveers, and the regimentation bull etc. After all there will be no war and whatever fighting is required will be done by the ITBP/CAPF deployed in the first tier. Patrolling can be history but yes if any flag meeting or talks are required, let the Army in the second tier take on the responsibility. In fact, it may be better to raise ITBP/CAPF Divisions like China’s Border Guard Divisions, transferring bulk of the Army equipment to the CAPF.

After 75 years of struggling with security issues, the above should bring home how very simple it is to streamline and defend India. Where is the need to chalk out a national security policy with the above set up? Same should happen along all our international borders including Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan borders. After all, it is trade that will boost our economy and make India great. It should really not matter whether the trade is legal or illegal through smuggling. And, lives lost in terror attacks help reduce our galloping population and in turn the rising unemployment.

There are some guys cribbing that the ITBP/CAPF are not trained enough to even take on counter-insurgency by themselves in J&K and the northeast. But why not make the Army train them – sitting in the second tier they would hardly have anything to do. There are also fears that  China will next take full control of the Pangong Tso which is ITBP Sector. But then don’t we believe in ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’? Some water to our ‘friend’ could perhaps quench China’s thirst for all times to come!

There has been plenty of discussion about skills that Agniveers could acquire while serving for 4-years in the military, leading to the conclusion that for any worthwhile skill the individual should serve for about seven years. But then rising unemployment numbers can be hoodwinked through part-skilling in the military. So, there are crores and crores of admirers of the Agnipath system given the strong political winds.

But how to deal with Nepalese serving in the Indian Army was never given any thought in the excitement of releasing the torrent of Agniveers.  This still remains a problem. However, a veteran Army Commander has recommended that Nepalese Agniveer soldiers released after 4-year service in the military be “re-skilled”, without mentioning where such training would be imparted. But pray why the re-skilling should only be for the Nepalese, why not for Indians? And, if skilling is the need, then why not under ‘Skill India’ from the very beginning?

The Catch-22 can perhaps be resolved by converting the military into an “Auxiliary Force’ meant to augment the CAPF, and placing it under command ‘Skill India’. That would eliminate the headache of the defence budget and defence spending also, with the ‘Auxiliary Force’ in non-military uniforms placed under the Ministry of Home Affairs – ‘Ranga Bhi Khush Aur Billa Bhi’. The MoD can then be disbanded or converted into the Ministry of Agniveers (MoA) fulfilling the desire of Rajnath. The ‘Deep-State Doctrine’ could be suitably amended.

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

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