By Lt Gen Dalip Singh
The three service chiefs of India in a joint press conference said that the Indian Air Force and the Army are expecting the first batch of recruits under the Tour of Duty initiative of the Modi government by December 2022. The initiative is aimed as part of modernizing Indian defense forces to face future challenges.
There have been protests and political hues and cries in India against the Tour of Duty scheme where youth aging 17-23 years would be given six months of training before embarking on four-year tenure with the various units of armed forces. Simultaneously, they would also be offered opportunities to complete their studies. On completion of four years, up to 25 percent of the intake would be retained by the armed forces while the rest of 75 percent of the Agniveers, as they would be known, would be discharged by paying an amount of around Rs12 lakhs, without any further liability. To make it more attractive, the government has also announced a preference for “Agniveers” in the future intake in the central armed forces.
The scheme is a mix of compulsory army training for youth on the lines of Israel and inculcating fresh blood which is more at home with the highly technological milieu of the modern war. On paper, it looks like a fantastic plan but the majority of the veterans of the Indian armed forces remain unconvinced about the idea and its implementation without a pilot test.
The three chiefs in their press conference have clarified that “Agniveers” would be doing duties of regular soldiers and there are no separate arrangements for them in the army units. They will also be covered under the same benefits given to regular soldiers in case of disability or death. However, the professional answers to battleground difficulties such as lack of motivation, drive, and killing spirit faced by young “Agniveer” are still to be answered. The question is what if an “Agniveer” in a forward area refuses to fight or defies an order?
Moreover, it is not clear whether in the future the “Agniveers” would compete with the post-retirement jobs available to regular soldiers like in the security establishment of public sector banks and other government departments?
Political apprehensions over the scheme are more about the tenure of the employment, social security, and the future of the youth who are willing to give five prime years of their lives to the armed forces. Socially, soldering as a career in India is associated with pride and dignity. Secured by their monthly pension, and medical and canteen facilities, most of the retired soldiers in the rural hinterlands still go back to agriculture after retirement instead of seeking low-paid jobs in the security sector in urban India. Four-year tenure would hardly count as a career in soldering for those proud communities. Let alone a life-long challenge to inculcating themselves back into civilian life and earning a living.
Indian armed forces are aiming to reduce the average age of the soldiers with the scheme while roping in tech-savvy youth is part of their strategy of ‘catch them young.’ But India is still to become a developed nation-state with a plethora of opportunities for youth after a stint with the armed forces.
It is for sure that the geostrategic challenges of India are going to be multifold in the future and that she would need a highly skilled and motivated force to defend the motherland. Hope that India ambitiously stretched between becoming a global economic power like China and a nation-state with compulsory army training like Israel, does not fall into the abysses of the Indian Ocean.
(Lt. Gen Dalip Singh, PVSM, VSM retired from the Indian Army after 39 years of service. He held important posts such as Director-General – Recruiting, and Director-General – Ordnance Services during his distinguished career as a soldier.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times