In the run-up to the July 18 Presidential election, the long-running faultline between the two major NDA partners, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (United), has again surfaced, this time over the BJP-led central government’s Agnipath scheme – the short-term contractual recruitment scheme for armed forces — that has sparked protests and violence across Bihar among other states.
Despite the JD(U) being the junior NDA partner in Bihar, the ruling alliance is led by JD(U) supremo and Chief Minster Nitish Kumar.
The JD(U), which had on Thursday asked the Centre to do a “rethink” over Agnipath, has now repeated its position more forcefully amid spiralling youth protests against the scheme.
The BJP has, however, been trying to evade its ally’s tough posers on the issue, even as the houses of Deputy CM Renu Devi and state BJP president Dr Sanjay Jaiswal have been targeted by anti-Agnipath protesters.
Just over the last one month, the two NDA allies have collided with each other over various matters – first, on the caste census issue that saw the JD(U) seeking to capitalise on the perceived disconnect between the state and central units of the BJP, and secondly, over the state BJP’s pitch for incentivising population control that was rejected by the JD(U).
Even on the Presidential poll issue, Nitish has barely committed anything to his senior ally, just saying that the JD(U) would wait for discussions to “start first and see who is the candidate and if there is one or more candidates”.
The JD(U)’s national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh, who has clearly outlined his party’s critical position over Agnipath, released a video statement and one in Hindi on Twitter Friday, saying that “There has been rising discontent in Bihar and some other states (against the Agnipath scheme). As violent incidents are being reported from several places, the Centre should immediately take cognisance and revisit the scheme. Students and youth have to be convinced that the scheme would not have any adverse impact”.
Other JD(U) leaders like party spokesman Nikhil Mandal have also kept the heat on the BJP over their demand that the Centre revisit the Agnipath scheme.
Senior BJP leaders have however been either blaming the Opposition for violent protests or playing down the JD(U)’s demand for reviewing the scheme. Union minister and Begusarai BJP MP Giriraj Singh said: “The Bihar Police should find out if there is a participation of Opposition leaders in ongoing protests”.
Renu Devi, whose house in Bettiah (West Champaran) was attacked by protesters, said: “What JD(U) leaders are saying are their personal opinion. The (Agnipath) scheme is about giving skills to youth.”
While the BJP may refrain from hitting back at the JD(U), Nitish has already got his party’s strong reservations about the scheme registered with the BJP. Some JD(U) leaders have maintained privately that the Narendra Modi government had “rushed with the Agnipath scheme” and that it should “restore the previous system” of recruitment of junior personnel in the armed forces.
Recently, in the wake of the controversy sparked by derogatory remarks made by ex-BJP spokespersons, Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, against the Prophet, the JD(U), the biggest NDA ally with 16 Lok Sabha seats, had castigated them. JD(U) national spokesperson and former Rajya Sabha MP KC Tyagi had then told The Indian Express: “We condemn blasphemous remarks made by two BJP spokespersons. It is good that BJP had disowned their statements and taken action against them… NDA government has achieved good rapport with Gulf countries with a lot of efforts. We have economic and cultural ties with them. One must not forget that lakhs of Indians live and do business there. Their security is important.”