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10 Jun

Agniveers: Catalysts for Military Excellence and Country’s Progress

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Agniveers: Catalysts for Military Excellence and Country’s Progress

by Col Ashwani Sharma (retd), Editor-in-Chief, South Asia Defence & Strategic Review

 

The transformative impact of the Agnipath scheme on the Indian military and society, emphasising the enhanced capabilities and broader societal integration of Agniveers, fostering national progress and military excellence.

 

“We have now established a ‘Super Excellent’ category for Agniveers’ Physical Efficiency Tests, as they are setting new standards”;  “These T-90 tank crews, composed of Agniveers and a commander, are among the best in our unit,”;  “Agniveers operate on auto mode—we need not supervise them, and they hardly ever report sick”,  these accolades, from officers across various levels, underline the exceptional quality of troops recruited through the Agnipath scheme. No officer I met recently had any adverse remarks about them. While discussing the scheme and its perception outside the military, officers felt that criticisms are often premature, speculative, and disconnected from on-ground realities. They were also critical of military veterans who dismiss the scheme without giving it a fair chance, as it represents a departure from traditional military thought.

The military has invested considerable effort in detailing and proposing this revolutionary scheme. “We analysed the recruitment patterns of 11 leading militaries worldwide; apart from Pakistan (and us), the rest follow a model similar to the Agniveer in some form,” said a senior general officer who has been part of the study, highlighting the thoroughness that preceded the adoption of the model. Apparently, a similar model (Tour of duty) for the officer cadre has also been in the works, however, what’s been implemented is the larger Agniveer scheme for the troops.

Two years after its initiation, the feedback within the Indian military about the Agniveer scheme has been overwhelmingly positive. At the operational level, there is unanimous agreement that the scheme has boosted the performance of young recruits, who consistently strive to excel, likely motivated by the rigorous selection process. Despite initial scepticism about the shortened training periods, training establishments have successfully adapted to the new cycles and are very pleased with the results—Agniveers are well-prepared when they join their units, and their technical training continues to advance at both the unit and organisational levels. Agniveers also achieve the aim of keeping the defence services’ profile youthful which fits in well with the requirements of future wars and warfighting doctrines which demand young and innovative minds at the functional levels.

The majority opinion though supports increasing the retention rate after four years from 25% to 50%. An issue which certainly needs reassessment is the applicability of the scheme for soldiers from Nepal as the post- release employment opportunities do not extend to them. Another  issue that merits reconsideration is regimentation which is the bedrock of Indian Army’s combat arms. Abrupt alterations to this longstanding tradition could potentially disrupt the motivational dynamics and esprit de corps, both of which are crucial for the army’s effectiveness in combat.

Observations and recommendations to refine the policy have reportedly been conveyed to the ministry, which has shown an openness to implementing these changes. The military’s view is unanimous on the recommendation that 04 years being the duration of Agniveer Cycle when the first batch will face retention, re-employment or release (as the case may be) the environment should wait for the first cycle to be completed, before jumping to any conclusions.

Since the launch of the scheme in June 2022, there has been a perception that it was introduced to alleviate the military’s revenue budget pressures. It is crucial to clarify that military pensions are funded from a separate pensions budget and are not linked to the Revenue budget, which covers the pay and allowances of serving officers.

Turning to the national perspective, the military, and the Agniveers by extension, are integral parts of our society. Late General Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, once discussed the potential benefits of integrating disciplined, physically fit youth with a strong nationalistic ethos into mainstream Indian society. I vividly remember that discussion, recognising that General Rawat was contemplating a significant societal impact, gathering insights from a broad spectrum without disclosing full intentions. My personal response was overwhelmingly positive and remains so, as the nation stands to benefit immensely from such disciplined and well-trained youth in every walk of life.

Politically, the scheme has encountered challenges, often distorted by narratives that neglect its successes and transformative potential. Moreover, the rehabilitation of Agniveers post-service is a critical aspect, often overlooked by critics who fail to acknowledge that these young individuals leave with substantial savings, with options to pursue employment or entrepreneurship, not to mention opportunities within the CAPFs, police, and industry. In fact there is a concern that the current sentiment and trend may witness a reversal.  As the scheme matures, Agniveers might prefer employment in the CAPFs, industry, and start-ups, given the more appealing prospects compared to hardships of traditional military service. The conventional view of a secure, pensionable military career might give way to these new opportunities as the economy continues to expand and diversify, signifying a shift in career aspirations towards more dynamic and rewarding opportunities.

 

Col Ashwani Sharma is the Editor-in-Chief of South Asia Defence & Strategic Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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