The Agnipath: Brilliant but half-baked in its roll out

Modi and his team known for Reform, Perform and Transform appear to be short on their stated ideals in rolling out a half-baked Agnipath

Modi and his team known for Reform, Perform and Transform appear to be short on their stated ideals in rolling out a half-baked Agnipath
Modi and his team known for Reform, Perform and Transform appear to be short on their stated ideals in rolling out a half-baked Agnipath

From CAA/ NRC to farm laws to Agnipath: The perils of the communication gap

The Agnipath plan seemed an enigma when it was announced. But my analysis now makes me believe that Agnipath is truly a transformative and innovative path to progress, modernization of the military with youth participation, and most of all the potential for a promising future for aspiring youth. I wondered why it was associated with Agni (Fire) which has many different contexts in Hinduism. To me, the most fitting in the present context is that the plan is meant for the only youth with fire in their belly to serve the country.

Reflecting back when I was 17 a long time ago, I wish the then government had the wisdom to propose a plan as promising as Agnipath. For today’s youth what can be better than learning, working, and earning simultaneously. In addition, they will build a skill set like disciplined and healthy living, goal-oriented and team environment, paying attention to details, differentiating between rights and responsibility, etc. In fact, living away from home at that tender age of 17-18 may not be appealing in the first instance but learning to live independently and taking care of yourself is perhaps what everyone needs to experience. Such skills will serve the Agniveers (the fitting name for the chosen few) very well no matter what their future aspirations will be after the first four years.

I not only totally detest but am sad about the street protests, violence, and devastation by our misguided youth against such a well-thought-out plan. More saddening is that India’s self-focused, intellectually deficient, irresponsible, and power-hungry politicians are inciting the youth to distract attention away from their own misdeeds. Recent examples include the ED investigations against the infamous mother-son duo of the Congress party; a similar investigation against AAP party leader, and the use of bulldozers in Uttar Pradesh against anti-national elements causing destruction of public property or for their ill-gotten wealth and unlawfully acquired property. Many cities in U.P. were targets of pre-planned violence after Friday prayers. Obviously, it is in the best interest of these politicians to have the newspaper headlines and narratives focus on the violent demonstration, burning of trains, and lawlessness rather than their own corrupt and criminal history.

It is a travesty that the number of such anti-national, anti-Hindu, and anti-Modi regime politicians and individuals is on the rise. They hide their own past and use the hired youth most of whom are unemployed with little education and poor skills. The youth on the street against Agnipath have little or no intellect and ability to compete for it, no fire in the belly, and are not even of the age to qualify. To India’s political and/ or religious leaders, I say – “STOP EXPLOITING YOUTH” and spare the country from destruction. Why put the youth on the path which may lead to prosecution and thus make their future worse than what it is?

I fully support Agnipath and offer credit where it is due to those who dreamed and planned it. However, they must reflect on what they could do differently and better to avoid, or at least minimize, the damage and violence on the streets. I will accept the criticism that it is easier for me to talk in the hindsight, but I hope that the points below are deemed constructive for the next innovative project like Agnipath. Modi and his team are known for innovation and thinking strategically in the best interest of the country but it came short on many fronts as discussed below:

  1. Learning from past mistakes: Why did the Modi government not learn from its past mistakes of rolling out CAA/ NRC and farmer’s bills without a nationwide awareness campaign? We know that both laws were framed by the duly elected Parliament in the best interest of the country but nobody cared to explain them to the public at large. In the process, the will of the people and the power of democracy, which allows everyone to protest (without violence and causing harm to others), were underestimated. It gave the opposition to exploit. Granted that the anti-national and anti-regime would deliberately not want to understand but the government could take pride that they made the attempt in good faith. Frankly, it was a mess some of which was the creation by the BJP government and they must own it.
    We are witnessing some of the same in the case of Agnipath. It was announced with great fanfare but little awareness campaign. I consider myself well educated but I did not grasp its relevance and importance from watching the press conference by the Defence Minister. We should have minimally engaged educators at the secondary school and college/ university level nationwide to help highlight the merits of Agnipath. There could be a video campaign on social media and/ or national media outlets telling why what and for who it is? I hold the government accountable for not learning from their earlier mistakes.
  2. Why not a “pilot” project first? It is one of the best practices to pilot a project and assess its outcomes, tweak it as necessary for the best results, and then make a big splash about it. Agnipath is truly a pilot which will recruit only about 46,000 youth in the initial phase, hardly a tiny drop in the ocean considering India’s large youth bulge and huge unemployment. Why not explain it in plain and simple language and not have the youth up in arms with a rather small number of only 46,000 recruits.
  3. Why not a Paid Internship? Why not call spade a spade because Agnipath is no different than a paid internship for armed services for 4 years rather than implying a government job with a guarantee for continuity even for the 25% Agniveers. The Agniveer interns should be allowed to go on if they meet the high standards of armed services or leave of their own will. Alternatively, the government should let them go because they don’t meet the standards.
  4. Why 25% retention? Even if the planners of Agnipath came up with a magical 25% for retention after 4 years, could it not be explained more tactfully with greater sensitivity toward the 75%. To the best of my knowledge, the announcement does not even state, “a minimum of 25%” leaving the higher limit open. Don’t we know what type of people we want in our armed services? Then why not define the broad parameters of performance and qualification standards which will qualify them to continue in the armed forces rather than put a predetermined limit of 25%? It is ironic that Agnipath is leading a path to two classes of Agniveers from the outset.
  5. Why not support more Agniveers? Is the government on the verge of bankruptcy and shallow in its thinking that it could not afford to absorb, say, 30%, 35%, or even all Agniveers if they met the tough standards and thus deserved retention based on their performance? It is certainly beyond me if the emerging New India is dreaming to be the fifth-largest economy. Don’t we want the best and relatively young army?

The government, in my view, failed in recognizing that the 17–18-year-olds are only as mature as their age. They need to be coached that there are no guarantees or free lunches in life. Not everyone has to hold a government job either. Every youth must learn that ‘work is worship’ and no work should be beneath them rather than being unemployed, beggar, or are for hire and exploited by the politicians and others for doing their dirty work.

In conclusion, let me recall a press conference in which the framers of Agnipath were talking about their continuous communication with the private sector, state governments, and others to offer priority in jobs to the 75% of exiting Agniveers after 4 years. He was asked if it was guaranteed and the respondent did a very poor job responding to it. I wish he was clear that the guarantee is as good as the individual’s qualifications and capabilities to meet the needs and demands of the job. Once again, the government must not make promises it has no control over and not make ambiguous statements.

Agnipath, no doubt, is a brilliant path and golden opportunity for India’s youth to succeed but a bit short-sighted in its magnitude. A poor explanation and that too after the cat out of the bag left many frustrated and unanswered questions. Modi and his team known for Reform, Perform and Transform appear to be short on their stated ideals in rolling out a half-baked Agnipath.

1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

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Vijendra Agarwal, born in village Kota (Saharanpur, U.P), left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee. He is currently a member of project GNARUS, a syndicated service and writers collective. He and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward better education and health of children, especially empowerment of girls. Vidya Gyan is a calling to give back to rural communities and keeping connected to his roots which gave him so much more. His passion for writing includes the interface of policy, politics, and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement.

Formerly, a researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he has widely travelled and came to the US in 1978. He was a faculty and academic administrator in several different universities in PA, TX, NJ, MN, WI, and NY, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during the Clinton administration.
Vijendra Agarwal


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