By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch
The social media is afire with comments like “Agniveer is a scam. It’s training RSS foot soldiers on taxpayer money. The selection process would prove my point.” Another post says 46,000 annual ToD recruitment together with Modi’s push to fill 100,000 government posts is to influence 2024 elections and obfuscate raging unemployment far more than the official figure of 4.2%.
But certain issues require closer scrutiny. Since the Army proposed ToD, the military has been ordered to defend it. It is immaterial that the Army wanted a pilot project but the government has ordered full-blown execution because Service Chiefs lack the guts to tell the government to first try a pilot project. Some serving three-stars are also cooing support to indicate they are always ‘available’.
One Army Commander says Agniveers will be skilled citizens though thousands of engineers, post graduates and MBAs are jobless, regular army soldiers are considered ‘unskilled’ and the government refuses to include the military in Group ‘A’ Services. Listen to Wing Commander Anubha Jain expose the systemic deceit and calling out to the spineless Generals falling over each other to appease the government.
The narrative of the military becoming younger, fitter, diverse with ToD is rhetoric. Rawat was earlier working on increasing the Army’s retirement age by two years. Already, the upper age limit for ToD entry has been raised by three years according to the media. Can any rat or bootlicker prove that the Army without ToD is not fit? The requirement actually is ‘fitter (read cleaner)’ politico-bureaucratic dispensation that also has the will to stand up to our enemy number one.
Also read| Agniveer: An army veteran’s detailed argument against Agnipath scheme – Part 1
As for “Diverse”, yes ToD will surely make the military diverse; a dual system in the same unit – one soldier on regular pay authorized full annual leave and the ToD inductee on less pay and 30 days annual leave. With no job guaranteed after four years, what will be the latter’s psychological condition? What will he be thinking vis-à-vis a permanent soldier when the unit/sub-unit is attacking a heavily fortified enemy/terrorist position? Will he use every opportunity to ‘make money’ on the sly, leading to corruption in the military?
Handling present-day technology and sophisticated weaponry requires thorough skills and training. For which six-months are grossly inadequate including for getting ingrained in the same traits and comradeship when he knows and the end of his 4-year stint, he must start at the bottom of the ladder. Are we giving a liability to the fighting arms and units and fooling the youth? Is the Army planning one year or more ‘on job training’ but keeping quiet. How will fighting units widely deployed in operational areas cope with this?
By the end of World War II, British Indian Army mobilized to 2.5 million but the volunteers did not know they would be de-mobilized at the end of the war but there was no present-day technology and weaponry. Warfare was mostly human wave assaults like the Chinese in 1962. Sure, the US and Israel also have short-term volunteers but they don’t have two nuclear-armed hostile neighbours, vast borders in inhospitable terrain and battle conditions our troops face. Some are comparing the commotion over ToD with establishment of Rashtriya Rifles (RR), which is absurd because the Army sent regular soldiers to RR.
ToD must also be viewed against the government increasing SSC officers tenure from 5 to 10 years and then to 14 using the judiciary which is now rooting for 50% women vacancies in the National Defence Academy.
There is much talk of the military churning out disciplined citizens with ToD but is the military’s job to discipline the nation or defend the nation? The so-called attractive package for ToD with first year Rs 21,000 in hand and fourth year Rs 28,000 in hand is a laugh compared to Rs 50,000 earned by a MCD safaiwala. The Seva Nidhi of Rs 11.71 at the end of four years may have to be used as a bribe to secure a second job?
K Vikram Singh, heading Central Association of Private Industry (CAPSI) is jubilant, expecting windfall of security guards with 75% ToD inductees discharged annually. But how many can he accommodate paying them even equal to their last cash-in-hand salary of Rs 28,000.
A former IAS officer says ToD is fooling the youth with no pension, medical and canteen facilities after four years, the advertisement showing as if the individual is being trained as a pilot, and the tagline ‘An opportunity to live life to the fullest’
The ‘afterthought; of job opportunities after four years in ToD are akin to pre-election promises. Take 10% jobs reserved in CAPF. CAPF will not honour their four-year seniority. Why then should youth not directly join CAPF or police rather than ‘touring’ the military? Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has also announced 10% reservation in MoD, DPSUs etc after the anti-ToD protests. Can any minister guarantee to the youth that all 75% ToD discharged annually will all get jobs and ‘X’ or ‘Y’ will be the starting salary. This is the least youth would want, not political jumlas.
The military requires restructuring like what China did, not ToD tsunami when we are locked in a standoff with China. On July 13, Rajnath Singh said at Mussoorie that India must be prepared for full-scale war. But we don’t even reply to Pakistan’s proxy war in the same coin and against China our policy is ‘Hum Dekh Rahe Hain’, be it enemy intrusions in Ladakh, PLA consolidation in intrusion areas, twin PLA bridges over Pangong Tso, Chinese village in Arunachal and little idea of China’s intentions. Is this the time to save money with ToD (ignoring much more expenditure mentioned in Part 1) while boasting of achieving a $5-10 trillion economy?
Prudence demands we don’t tamper with military recruitment and expand the Territorial Army. But the Finance Minister is hell-bent on squeezing as much money from the military, leaving all other services and sectors untouched. Part 1 covered how ONLY the military is being targeted over the pension bill. But that is not all. The Modi government since 2014 has written off bank loans worth lakhs of crores and gave tax exemption of Rs 1,45,000 crore to the corporate sector a few years back which would have multiplied 4-5 times.
The NSA said in 2014 that there will be no war and police have to do all the fighting. That is why he probably hasn’t defined a national security strategy though tasked in 2019. Rajnath as Home Minister went out of his way for police forces but presided over the emancipation of Armed Forces as Defence Minister. The politicians and bureaucrats know the police man, the intelligence agencies and privy to their skeletons. The bureaucrats hold all governments to ransom but this government has helped ‘expand’ the bureaucratic empire instead of shortening it,
If ToD is such a good idea, why is that not the ONLY recruitment avenue in police, CAPF and Group ‘A’ services? Wouldn’t that save 50 times more than targeting the military exclusively? Incidentally, each soldier on 4-year ToD will cost the concerned Service around Rs 40 lakhs according to one estimate.
The Regimental System in the Army is being targeted linking it with the British era, whereas it has no link with the British. This will be sacrilege – adversely affecting combat effectiveness. The irony is that those who haven’t served in a regiment, especially fighting arms, have no idea what it is about.
There is absolutely no chance of all 75% ToD discharged annually getting a government or another job. This will lead to a highly militarized society, cashed on by terrorists-insurgents, the ISI and Chinese intelligence. There is no dearth of illegal weapons in India. Yet the government appears intent on this self-inflicted injury together with deliberate polarization to win votes.
Naravane may have hoped to become the next CDS. But like Chinese products are ‘use and throw’, America uses and dumps countries, our MoD excels in using and dumping military leaders.
Including Lt Gen rank officers in the search for CDS, implies the most pliable will be chosen. CDS will be split from Secretary DMA and latter will be a senior IAS officer. Former Army Chief General Ved Malik recently said that if the government appoints a Lieutenant General as CDS and a Service Chief resigns, it could create a situation. But that breed is extinct and even if someone resigns, the next one will replace him posthaste.
Protests against ToD are being compared to CAA and Farmers protests. Government fails to acknowledge that despite systemic degradation of the Army, which cannot be compensated by erecting memorials, thousands lineup at recruitment rallies. Some of them are the only earning members supporting their parents and other family members. They want job security, not 4-year tourism.
The combat potential of our military will be severely degraded in an inevitable future war with China if it is converted to a semi-conscript force through ToD. We are way behind the technological prowess of the PLA notwithstanding the rhetoric. This ‘demonetization of the military’ will hurt the nation very badly. PM Modi remains focused primarily on elections even though there is no worthwhile opposition and whatever opposition is there is not united. He needs to take a serious call on mass enforcement of ToD. The military hierarchy has changed its slogan from “More you Train in Peace, Less you Bleed in War” to “Less you train in peace, faster we climb the ladder”. But the question is will PM Modi review ToD in the national interest or still push it through?
(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).