Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw, Military Cross, while addressing the commissioning gentleman cadets in the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun said, “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 a loser. If you lose, don’t come back.”
As debates and discussion rage on news channels, print and social media and in living rooms on 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, Navy and 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 aircraft 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 on in the Indian Army is the implementation which includes both the four-year service period of the Agniveer and the resettlement of each Agniveer, who will not be retained post the four-year minimum service period as enumerated in the Agnipath scheme.
Let us first have a look at implementation during the four-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 eco-system 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 four-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 four-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 period 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/prematurely 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 four-year period are 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 paramilitary forces and other government jobs where there is an assured long duration service till the age of 60 years 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, who comprise about 70% of 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 of Infantry, Mechanised Infantry and the Armoured Corps, as these three have the first direct contact with the enemy.
These three fighting arms have regiments/battalions that have fixed troop compositions, some of which date back to the pre-Independence era and have excelled in wars, both pre 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, as an Agniveer will find it easy to integrate in the fighting arms imbibing the ecosystem and esprit-de-corps of the regiment/battalion, which is of extreme importance in the fighting arms. A similar step in the 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 is in existence since Independence should be followed, yet at the same time the troop composition of the existing regiments/battalions of the fighting arms and the supporting arms should not be changed.
New raisings should be only on All India-All Class configuration. The Agnipath scheme has to succeed at all cost 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.”
Lt Col J.S. Sodhi retired from the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army. The views expressed are personal.