The Congress faced a big embarrassment today over its protest letter on the controversial Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces. Senior leader Manish Tewari -- a G-23 member who earlier handed the party moments of deep discomfort with his public criticism -- refused to sign the protest letter to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who was briefing a parliamentary committee on the scheme.
"It will be silly to unnecessarily politicise the matter," sources close to Mr Tewari quoted him as saying.
Earlier, Mr Tewari has verbally opposed the Agnipath scheme, whose terms had triggered largescale outrage. The mandatory retirement for most after four years without any pension or gratuity, has enraged young people in the backdrop of largescale unemployment and economic depression.
The letter, listing a set of demands, was signed by six opposition MPs including Congress's Shaktisinh Gohil, Trinamool Congress's Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Sougata Roy, Nationalist Congress Party's Supriya Sule and Rashtriya Janata Dal's AD Singh.
The MPs have demanded that withdrawal of the "Agnipath" scheme , advised a consultation and a report from the standing committee of defence. Most opposition parties, including the Congress, dubbed "Agnipath" the latest blunder of the government in line with demonetisation and farm laws.
The committee on Defence chaired by Mr Singh has 20 members-- 13 from Lok Sabha and around 7 from Rajya Sabha -- from across the board.
At the meeting, Rajnath Singh said, "The Agnipath scheme has not been implemented suddenly. It has been a long, thought-out process".
The Army chief, General Manoj Pande, said the short-term recruitments will not compromise the operational readiness of the forces. The new recruitment scheme has not been drawn up to reduce pensions, "there is no linkage," added the Defence Secretary .
The unveiling of the Agnipath scheme last month was followed by violent protests in many northern states including Bihar. The protest, which continued for a week, was backed by many opposition parties.
The armed forces have said this was a long-awaited change that's in tune with the global trend focussing on the use of cutting-edge technology and a younger age profile for soldiers who adapt faster to it.
Earlier this week, the Indian Air Force said it has received nearly 7.5 lakh applications under the scheme.
Mr Tewari -- one of the 23 leaders whose explosive critical letter to Sonia Gandhi had made headlines -- had criticised the UPA government last year in his new book over its reaction to the 26/11 terror attacks.