Amid the countrywide stir against the Centre’s Agnipath scheme for short-term recruitment of soldiers in the armed forces, Bihar has witnessed most widespread and violent protests. The state’s principal Opposition RJD’s national spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Kumar Jha speaks to The Indian Express over the raging row. Excerpts:
Why do you think the scale of anti-Agnipath protests is so big, particularly in Bihar and UP? Is it the short-term nature of the scheme or its very concept itself?
Fundamentally, it is the scale of protest, particularly in Bihar, that concerns us. It has to be seen in the context of joblessness in the economy and also the scale of unemployment in India. It is like students waking up one morning to see their dreams shattered…their dreams of serving the nation shattered. This scheme is a textbook example of mindless application… The anger of youth should be understood. We condemn violent nature of protests but students need to be heard.
Do you see the Opposition parties coming together on a single platform to protest Agnipath?
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Ideally, they must come together to oppose it even though several parties have been doing so individually. The Opposition has been appealing to the government but the problem with this government is that it is not a good listener. In case of farm laws too, we had made an appeal. The NDA government thinks that electoral victory is an endorsement for whatever it does or wants to do. What happened with farm laws? They had to take it back. They will again have to take it (Agnipath) back, but we are worried about the huge cost that may incur in the process.
Now that your party has also supported students on peaceful protests against Agnipath, what should be the way out of it?
The government has to first recall Agnipath. That should be the beginning. That would show that this government can listen. Second, July session of Parliament is coming up. Let there be sector-wise discussion on unemployment. Bulldozing job aspirations of people and giving a fancy name to a scheme would not help.
Don’t you think the massive establishment cost is the main reason for the Centre to bring a short-term recruitment scheme like Agnipath?
I find it amusing and bizarre. Why do we choose government? This government summarily failed in filling vacancies in defence forces and also in creating adequate employment in country in last eight years. I think PM’s advisors are failing him very often as the PM finds himself in trouble because of bad advice. Perhaps advisors have been distancing the PM from ground realities.
What do you make of the JD(U) not being on the same page with the BJP over Agnipath? The RJD these days has many things in common with the ruling JD (U), the BJP’s key ally.
Any political party will oppose such a scheme. Even BJP MPs would tell media off-the-record that this scheme is not working out. But they are unable to talk about people’s anger because they have to work in an authoritarian set-up. Genuine anger of people is not reaching Delhi. As for JD(U), it is a distinct party and voices concerns of people emphatically.
How do you react to Union minister and BJP leader Giriraj Singh’s allegations that the RJD was provoking students?
We do not generally react to what Singh says as very often his statement is not based on facts and reason. We only support students’ genuine concerns and appeal to them not to engage in any violent protest. They have already made a statement and their involvement in any violence would only delegitimise their protests.
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