By Lt Col JS Sodhi (Retd)
Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw, Military Cross, while addressing the commissioning gentleman cadets in the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun spoke “One thing remains the same. That is, your task and your duty. You are required to ensure the security of this country against any aggressor. What does that mean for you? It means that you should have to fight, and fight to win. There is no room for losers. If you lose, don’t come back”.
As debates and discussion rage in every television news channel, print and social media and in the living rooms over the Agnipath scheme for recruitment of soldiers in the Indian Armed Forces, there is no denying the fact that this is the biggest defence reform since Independence as it affects every soldier/sailor/airman of the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force.
However, the success of this scheme in the Indian Army hinges on two vital points – Implementation and Regimentation.
Unlike the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force where there is no regimentation due to the highly technologically advanced aircrafts and battleships that are the main inventory of these two Services, the Indian Army has a unique dimension and that is “Regimentation”.
The first pivotal point on which the success of the Agnipath scheme hinges in the Indian Army is the Implementation which includes both the 4-year service of the Agniveer and the resettlement of each Agniveer who will not be retained post the 4-year minimum service period as enumerated in the Agnipath scheme.
Let us first have a look at implementation during the 4-year service period. During this period, it will be imperative upon every Officer, JCO and Other Ranks either in the Regimental Centre where the six-month training period will be done, or in the respective Regiments/Battalions where the Agniveer will spend the 3.5-year period as a trained soldier, to ensure that the Agniveer is moulded in the ethos and ecosystem of the fighting unit.
During the 3.5-year service period in the Regiment/Battalion each Agniveer should serve in the same Regiment/Battalion and should not be posted out elsewhere. An Agniveer should have a field area profile in his 3.5-year service so that the young age of the Agniveer is capitalised in a field area for maximum combat output.
Also, the power to retain an Agniveer for longer service after the 4-year service period should vest with the respective Regimental Centres with due weightage being given to the inputs of the Agniveer’s performance obtained from his Commanding Officer.
The Agniveers retained for longer service beyond the 4-year period can then be made to do career courses and posted for Extra Regimental Employment (ERE) by the respective Records Offices as per the policies in vogue.
It is but natural that after three years of service, each Agniveer would generally know where he stands in terms of getting permanent enrolment and hence would start planning his life post the four-year enlistment period. It thus becomes imperative that organisations like the Director General Resettlement (DGR) are staffed with more officers so that the resettlement of these released Agniveers is seamless.
The past experience of DGR in settling Veterans (armed forces personnel of the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force who superannuate/retire) has not been encouraging as various resettlement schemes have virtually collapsed due to PSUs pulling out, despite being mandated to do so, thus leaving many Veterans in the lurch and struggling post retirement.
DGR will now have to be tasked to ensure that the Agniveers not retained after the 4-year period is absorbed in various governmental organisations where vacancies have been announced by various Union Ministries and State Governments. No Agniveer can be left high and dry, else the rural youth’s first preference will be the Para Military Forces and other Government jobs where there is an assured long duration service and Armed Forces will become a second option for them. Till now a job in the military is the first option for the rural youth of the country, who comprise about 70% of the Indian armed forces soldiers.
The other pivotal point on which the success of the Agnipath scheme in the Indian Army is Regimentation.
The cutting edge of the Indian Army are the three fighting arms which are the Infantry, Mechanised Infantry and the Armoured Corps as these three arms have the first direct contact with an enemy.
These three fighting arms have Regiments/Battalions which have fixed troop composition, some of which date back to the pre-independence era and have excelled both in wars, both pre-independence and post-independence. The troop composition should not be tinkered with. Some examples are the Maratha Light Infantry, the Rajput Regiment, the Bihar Regiment, the Sikh Regiment and the Sikh Light Infantry of the Infantry which is also known as the Queen of the Battle.
This is because an Agniveer who will be joining for a shortened duration of 4 years will find it easy to assimilate and amalgamate the environs of his Regiment/Battalion as many peers and seniors in the Regiment/Battalion would be from and around his village due to the fixed troop composition in these three fighting arms. This will help increase the combat potential of these three fighting arms.
A similar step in supporting arms like the Regiment of Artillery, Corps of Army Air Defence and the Corps of Engineers will help make the Agnipath scheme a roaring success.
The All India-All Class system of recruitment for soldiers which has been in existence since our Independence in 1947 should definitely be followed, yet at the same time the troop composition of the existing fighting units should not be changed.
The Agnipath scheme has to succeed at all costs as the nation’s security depends on it, for there is no runner up in a war or in counter-insurgency operations.
Alan Mullaly rightly remarked “Leadership is having a compelling vision, a comprehensive plan, relentless implementation and talented people working together”.
(Author who retired from the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army is an alumnus of NDA, Khadakwasla and IIT Kanpur. He is an M.Tech in Structures and has also done MBA and LLB. He Tweets and Koos at @JassiSodhi24. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).