Urging the protesters to shun violence and get organised so that the government hears them clearly, Rajya Sabha member Jayant Chaudhary said on Friday that the Agnipath scheme will have to be rolled back. "That's the only rational choice," said the Rashtriya Lok Dal leader, a prominent opposition figure with support base in western Uttar Pradesh, a major catchment area for armed forces' recruitment.
Speaking with NDTV, Mr Chaudhary said the government needs to be sensitive in how it handles the protesting aspirants "who feel hopeless now". "There has been no army recruitment since 2019. Young people were already frustrated and the four-year hiring scheme has made it worse," said Mr Chaudhary, part of an alliance led by Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav.
"In the villages, people say 'no one will marry our sons now'... (as) these are not permanent jobs," he replied, when asked about the mood of his region. "People are saying that the government was delaying recruitment on purpose, as it was planning this scheme all along. The government thought there will be more desperate aspirants because of the long gap, and there will be a groundswell of support once the scheme comes. The opposite has happened."
The scheme, announced on June 14, is for hiring young men and women aged 17.5 to 21 for all three services for four years, after which up to 25 per cent may be absorbed for regular commission of 15 years. The government has raised the upper age limit to 23 for this year as there have been no recruitments for two years owing to the Covid pandemic.
"Even the parameters of how they'll select the 25 per cent to be retained — those are not clear," the RLD leader said. "The government plans to hire around 40,000 recruits this year under the scheme; so basically only about 10,000 will get permanent jobs, that too in another four years. Compare this to 2019, when 80,000 were hired for regular commission directly."
Calling the scheme a result of "rash decision-making," he said, "Look at the distressing signals we are sending to China."
On whether the reported logic of this being a cost-cutting scheme made sense - no data has been given on what and how much the government will save - Jayant Chaudhary said, "Don't give them ideas; they will come up with some propaganda."
In an appeal in Hindi to the protesters, he told them, "Hum sab aapke saath hain, sarkar ke upar aap ka haq hai. (We are all with you; you have a right over the government too). You must have patience and get organised. If you stop the violence, you will be heard much better."
"Even the common people understand that you have been wronged. But vandalism will make people lose faith in you," he said.
Meanwhile, in Telangana's Secunderabad, a 19-year-old man died and over 15 were injured as violent protests against the new military recruitment policy spread to the southern state after entering the third consecutive day in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana. Protests have also been reported in West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, among other places.