It is a very old saying that it is most difficult to get an old idea out of a military mind, much less thrust a new idea. We are currently adversely commenting on a refreshingly new idea even without trying. It is not that the Agniveers will bring about a menacing storm in a hugely accomplished military organisation. The concept of Agnipath, as it stands today, was not pulled out of a hat in a jiffy. It has been under discussion for a minimum of 4-5 years with inputs from a wide range of military professionals including veterans with multiple rounds of deliberations. Hence, it is well thought out. National security, incidentally, is the concern of each citizen of our motherland, not the preserve of a cynical few.
With a declaration by the Ministry of Home Affairs with respect to the post-release absorption of Agniveers in Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), state police, Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) and other government and surely some private organisations, the concern of post-release employment should be attenuated. Certainly, the employability of a trained soldier will be far greater than one without it. It is bizarre to suggest that some of the released Agniveers with military training will become criminals. Is that the ethos, culture and tradition we intend inculcating in them in four years? What about those on the streets without a job? At 21, many of them will indeed be role models in their respective social groups, bereft of cultural, religious, ideological and caste-based linkages.
Many people have commented on the alleged limited training imparted to the Agniveers. Our training duration and approach have undergone perfunctory modifications over the years. Today’s Agniveers will be drawn from a much better educated, technologically proficient and socially aware environment, whose proficiency to pick up training modules will be much faster. Do you need the same duration of training as we have been used to? As per the current policy, an infantry soldier undergoes training for 36 weeks (19 weeks basic +17 weeks advanced). It has been so for decades. I was a Training Battalion Commander in 2006 at a Regimental Centre. Though the Initial Recruiting and Training Plan (IRTP) has been revised in 2014, the duration has not changed. We impart training in learning Hindi also for non-Hindi speaking recruits. I leave it to the learned to appreciate if a review is in order. Before any individual is inducted into an operational area, he undergoes pre-induction training at Corps Battle Schools, which will continue. Most importantly, on the job training is a continuous process in any military unit. Any professional military unit not deployed for operations is in fact under training. We are training young officers for 9 months at OTA. Is 6 months less for a soldier then?
These vital tenets of soldiering are formulated, modified, nurtured and perpetuated by the officer cadre, not by soldiers of 4 years of service. It is for us to not only preserve but upgrade such inherent values in the military. There are no changes in the modalities of the officer intake. The 25% retained will form the vital link between the officers and Agniveers. If officers prove themselves to be transformational leaders (by personal example in professionalism, probity, loyalty, integrity and selfless service), the Agniveers will follow them to the peril of their lives. I was in Operation Vijay and interacted with soldiers drawn from units all across India who were deployed in detachments. Believe me, their motivation and exuberance to hit the forward areas in high altitudes drove me to tears. It is the Nation. My country. Everything is secondary including one’s life. How will the bonding suffer? To the contrary, the bonding will permeate beyond military into other domains of CAPFs and other government services with the Agniveers populating it. On one side, some of us recommend compulsory military training for a limited period for all government services and on the other, reject an idea that facilitates it. Ask any short service officer, once you wear a uniform, the camaraderie lasts a lifetime.
I will agree to the fact there may be some mismatch in rank structure and experience at various levels at other ranks (OR) and non-commissioned officer (NCO) level, but this effect will manifest in 10-12 years. With experience, the percentage of retention of Agniveers as regulars can be tweaked. It is not that, once promulgated, the method of induction and retention cannot be altered. Give the new concept a chance before trashing it outright.
Finally, those who feel it is to save on pensions—you are right and why not (You may say it doesn’t affect me)? We don’t have an unending budget. There are competing requirements for the Nation. Education, health, infrastructure, employment, agriculture, research and development (R&D) are all important. Yes, national security can’t be compromised—are we compromising it? It is only being realigned to have greater funds for capital procurement and modernisation without compromising operational efficiency. So, let’s try it with an open mind.
Maj Gen S.C. Mohanty commanded a Division in the Western Theatre and has multiple tenures on the Line of Control and the Line of Actual Control.