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Its youths bound for Army, Agniveer a poll issue in Himachal

BJP leader and ex-servicemen league chief Major Mankotia (retd.) denies it is an issue but agrees the scheme needs a revision.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi alongwith Jairam Thakur, Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

FOUR months after the Government of India launched the Agnipath scheme for recruitment in the defence services, and faced protests, the scheme has emerged as an issue in the Assembly election-bound Himachal Pradesh.

The narrative in the hilly state that had witnessed several protests against the Agniveer scheme earlier, is that it would affect scores of youth who have been preparing to get into defence services for secure career prospects.

Agnipath is a GoI scheme for recruiting soldiers below the rank of commissioned officers into three services of the armed forces, under which, instead of permanent jobs, recruits would be hired for a period of four years. The scheme would cut prospects of all youths including those from Himachal.

During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadshow in Dharamshala in June this year, the police had booked about 300 youths for blocking the Pathankot-Mandi highway near Gaggal airport in Kangra district. The youths were protesting against the PM by tearing his posters.

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Himachal is estimated to have around 2.8 lakh people who are currently in the defence services or are ex-servicemen. Out of these, 80 per cent are from Kangra, Una and Hamirpur districts. Besides, 8 lakh unemployed are registered in employment exchanges across the state that has 3 lakh government employees.

Raghubir Singh Bali, the Congress candidate from Nagrota Bagwan, said lower Himachal was carved out of Punjab, and people in this belt always looked at defence to serve the country. But with the Agniveer scheme, their job prospects have been hit badly, making it a major issue in the state. “The villages in Kangra, Una and Hamirpur are full of servicemen and ex-servicemen. The scheme has evoked strong reactions.

“There aren’t many job avenues in Himachal, but the youths have been finding ample opportunities in the defence services so far. If you visit villages in these districts, you will see many decent houses built by ex-servicemen. They are respected. You will also see many youth exercising on Himachal roads to build stamina to clear physical fitness tests for the services. With the Agniveer scheme, their ambitions have been hit. They will come back home after four years. This is not a good scheme. The Himachali youth has been hit hard,” said Krishan Dev Rana, a resident of Gaggal village.

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Himachal is estimated to have around 2.8 lakh people who are currently in the defence services or are ex-servicemen.

Sanjeev Kumar, a taxi driver and a resident of Dhaloom village near Yol Cantonment, said, “Agniveer is a big issue. What will our children do when they return after four years? The BJP is claiming there has been no reaction, and that youths are already making a beeline to the scheme. I want to ask them: ‘What else would these youths do when they have no job avenues?’. Also, these children were preparing hard. They had no option but to sign up.”

Major Vijai Singh Mankotia (retd.), chairperson of the Himachal Ex-Servicemen League, who recently joined the BJP, denied that Agniveer was an election issue in the state. “Look at the hundreds of youths who have already started getting recruited under the scheme. And (under the scheme) 25 per cent of them would be retained by the defence forces.”


In the same breath, however, he added, “Nevertheless, now that I have joined the BJP, I’ve already written a letter to the Centre, seeking a review of the scheme.”

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He said it required at least nine years for a soldier to “mature”. “It is in nine years that we can say that we are ready to take on the enemy. Hence, I have already sought a review of the scheme, being the chairperson of the state unit of the ex-servicemen’s league… I have participated in three different wars, in 1962, 1965 and 1971. We, as veterans think that to prepare a soldier for war, it requires more than four years. We went to Delhi to ensure our viewpoint reaches the government. A soldier is not ready unless he has been trained to handle different types of arms. You cannot teach him in four years what takes him at least 9-10 years to learn. Only then he is ready for war. Only then can he say that he is ready to take on the enemy. We have already submitted our request with the Centre, asking them to review the scheme.”

First published on: 29-10-2022 at 14:38 IST
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