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The Inexplicable Anger Over Agneepath

21/06/2022 at 7:35 AM

Sutanu Guru

Executive Director, C Voter Research Foundation

Given the hard data on the workforce in India; it is difficult to understand why protestors are indulging in arson and violence over the Agneepath scheme for armed forces

Ever since the new Agneepath scheme for hiring soldiers for the Indian armed forces was announced, protestors across the country have displayed their anger by burning down trains, railway stations, buses and even police stations. The intensity of violence has been very high in Bihar. Critics of the new policy say that the anger is over the fact 75% of the soldiers will be compulsorily “retired” after four years of service with a one time severance package of about Rs 12 lakhs. These soldiers will not be entitled to pension and other benefits enjoyed currently by soldiers. Critics say this “cruel” approach has angered the youth who are resorting to violence out of frustration.

But look at the numbers. About 1.5 crore Indians clear the Class 12th board exams each year. Even before the Agneepath scheme, the Indian armed forces recruited about 50,000 soldiers each year. In effect less than 0.5% of class 12th pass outs enter the armed forces each year. If one goes by the 4 year “retirement” scheme, about 38,000 young Indians will be deprived of a pension. That’s a mere drop in the ocean. So why are angry “youth” creating mayhem and destruction over a mere 38,000 jobs and pensions each year. Don’t forget: the total labour force in India is 500 million. The total number of Indians in the armed forces is 1 million; which isabout 0.2% of the work force. Clearly, an overwhelmingly large proportion of the work force doesn’t get into the armed forces. So what explains the anger and the violence?

Look at it from another perspective. About 15 lakh young Indians try their best, spend a lot of money on coaching and sit for the IIT-JEE exams each year. The 23 odd IITs in the country select only 10,000 out of the 15 lakh every year. Have you ever heard of students who failed to succeed in the IIT-JEE exams get angry and burn down trains and buses? Look at another set of data. Approximately 10 lakh aspirants toil, spend lots of money on coaching and sit for the civil service exams each year. In India, becoming a “civil servant” is considered to be the pinnacle of achievement as it is civil servants who actually rule and run India. Each year, less than 1,000 aspirants succeed in becoming civil servants. Have you heard of unsuccessful candidates burning down trains and buses in anger and frustration?

Then what explains the anger and the violence over the Agneepath scheme?

The author claims no expertise whatsoever in sociology and psychology. But data could perhaps provide some answers. There is no doubt that Indians are deeply worried about jobs; or the lack of jobs that pay a decent salary. The situation has worsened since the Covid pandemic broke out in early 2020. C Voter has been conducting a daily tracking poll of Indians since March 2020 and a majority of respondents have cited unemployment and inflation as their main areas of concern. Even for those with jobs, the situation doesn’t appear very rosy. Just this month, only 9% of respondents to a C Voter survey said they had got a salary hike while about 58% said they had not got any hike. A full one third of the respondents said that their salaries had actually gone down. In such a situation, any news that even the paltry 50,000 armed forces jobs per year will no longer be available can inflame passions at a psychological level.

A second reason doesn’t have hard data to support it; but is clearly evident since Narendra Modi was re elected as Prime Minister in 2019. Since then, those who detest Narendra Modi for ideological reasons have tried every trick in the book to inflame passions and instigate violent protests. It happened with the Citizenship Amendment Law that culminated in terrible communal riots in Delhi in March 2020. It happened after the Parliament passed the three farm laws that were designed to help small farmers. One section of “farmers” protested volubly and literally laid siege to Delhi for more than a year. One witnessed unprecedented hooliganism and street violence on Republic Day, 2021 when even the iconic Red Fort was “attacked”. The Modi regime was forced to withdraw the farm laws. It is clear that those implacably opposed to prime minister Modi are using youth apprehensions over the Agneepath to trigger even more street violence.

But data also shows that the regime has been failing to communicate effectively with stakeholders. During the farm law protests, a majority of respondents in C Voter surveys insisted that the government must hold talks with protestors even as they backed the farm was as a good reform measure that would help farmers. Close to two thirds of respondents to a new C Voter survey were of the opinion that the Agneepath scheme was a good one. Yet, two thirds also wanted the scheme to be withdrawn. Why? More than 60% of respondents said the government has failed to communicate the benefits of the scheme to the youth. Even supporters and well wishers of Narendra Modi are convinced his government is failing in effective communication. Will the protests over the new scheme be a wake up call for the regime?

About the Author:

After his masters degree in economics, Sutanu Guru has been a journalist for more than 30 years in media outlets like Times of India, Economic Times, Business Today, Business World, Business India & others. Currently, he focuses more on research and writing.


This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write up have nothing to do with those of prameyanews.com.

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