On Tuesday, in New Delhi, amid protests against the Agnipath defence recruitment scheme, National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval said that “there is no question” of a rollback. “India has among the youngest populations in the world, yet it cannot continue to have an army with a high average age, he told ANI in an interview, arguing that the new system will ensure a more tech-savvy army.
On sight of the protest, he said vandalism is not justified. “Those doing this are not the aspirants; the real ones are at home, preparing.” He said that while some veterans had genuine concerns and were now changing their minds, there are people who “just want conflict in society to discredit the government”.
Speaking about the future of Agniveers after four years, he asserted that the age of “settling down” is around 25-26 now. “People are speaking of one life-two career, even three careers now. When recruits from the first batch of Agniveers retire, India will be a 5-trillion-dollar economy; industry will need people who have age on their side. These men and women will still be young and won’t have family compulsions.”
Mr Doval said, “It is not a kneejerk action. This scheme has been debated and discussed for decades.” He cited several army committees and ministerial panels as having mulled over such a scheme. “Only a leader like Prime Minister Narendra Modi could say that he would even pay a political price, if needed, for a step in the national interest.”
The regimental system will be affected, he added, “There is no tinkering there. Artillery, Armoured Corps, and other such will remain. As for caste-based regiments, very few remain. They are a colonial legacy… The British did not want anything pan-India but wanted people to represent community or region.”
The NSA rubbished fears that retired Agniveers could be used for vested interests or become “mercenaries for hire”. He asserted that these men and women will have “such training and commitment towards society that they will in fact be a force for internal security”. “Not only will the armed forces have well-trained soldiers, but civil society too will have thousands as catalysts of change with a national perspective.”
He also reacted to recent statements that Agniveers will be good plumbers and guards after four years. “We are talking about 22-23-year-olds with army service; compare them with anyone else their age, these Agniveers will have discipline, skills, and will be highly trainable…No Avenue is debarred for them. They will have ₹ 11 lakh, with which they can even study further.” He cited reservations in other government services, including police forces, announced so far.