BJP goes into overdrive to counter protests over Agnipath scheme

|HT|


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday went into overdrive to counter perceptions that short-term recruitment of soldiers in the defence services under the Agnipath scheme will adversely impact enrolments and drive unemployment as part of its attempts to prevent escalation of protests over it. Protests against the scheme in states such as Bihar left at least 180 people injured on Thursday. BJP’s ally and Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal (United) or JD (U) has been among the parties that has asked the Centre to reconsider the scheme.

The BJP does not want protracted protests like those against the now-repealed farm laws in 2021 and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act a year earlier.

BJP leader and Bihar’s deputy chief minister Tarkishore Prasad blamed a lack of understanding about the scheme for the protests even as a JD(U) leader said the government should have consulted the ally before announcing the scheme. “There seems to be a communication gap. The government will have to move quickly to prevent this from worsening. The youths have been flagging the issue of delays in enrolment in the armed forces and there is disillusionment building over the overall state of unemployment and economy,” the JD (U) leader said, requesting anonymity. BJP lawmaker Varun Gandhi, who has been critical of the government on issues related to employment and economy, wrote a letter to defence minister Rajnath Singh echoing questions and doubts about the recruitment process. He said the retirement of 75% of the soldiers after four years of service under the scheme will lead to more disaffection.

BJP leader Rajyavardhan Rathore called the scheme the need of the hour and accused the opposition of trying to stoke fears and riots. “Youths, in their 20s, spend lakhs for professional degrees with no guarantee of a job. Here, you get ₹20 lakh by the time you are 24 along with either an extension of minimum 15 years in the forces or job opportunities in CAPF [Central Armed Police Forces] on a priority basis, preferential loans, opportunity for higher studies, and a stamp of having served the armed forces.” BJP-ruled states have announced preferential employment opportunities for Agniveers, the recruits under the scheme, who will not be retained in the armed forces after four years. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath said the state government will give priority to Agniveers in recruitments to police and related services in Uttar Pradesh, where the delay in enrolment in the armed forces was one of the major poll issues this year. His counterparts in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand have made similar announcements.

Chandra Mohan, a BJP spokesperson in Uttar Pradesh, blamed ideologically bankrupt opposition parties for the protests. “Before the scheme is dismissed, people should wait for it to be implemented. The government is ready to answer all the questions that the youths have.” The BJP plans to step up efforts to counter the “misinformation” at programmes top leaders and ministers are holding to advertise the party’s eight years in power. “...the party and the government will counter the opposition’s allegations and allay the fears of the youths,” said another BJP leader.

The BJP-led government has faced widespread protests against laws and policy decisions since it came to power at the Centre in 2014. It rolled back the land acquisition bill in 2015 and the farm laws in 2021.


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