‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ Defence Forces are a ‘force of deterrence’ and a price that the nation-state pays for unhindered peaceful growth and prosperity of its citizens. The expenditure on defence should never be considered an extravagance. Those who do not agree can have a look at the Ukraine war. Citizens of Ukraine are subjected to devastation, misery and humiliation, though being a developed nation with a luxurious lifestyle. This happened because they did not pay attention to defence preparedness and thought someone else will do that for them.
Hon’ble Raksha Mantri, flanked by the three Service Chiefs, addressed a press conference on June 14, introducing the ‘Agneepath’ concept for entry into the armed forces. Agneepath is about a four-year tenure with the defence forces as a soldier/air warrior/sea warrior. More than 46,000 Agniveers will be inducted into the armed forces this year. Only 25% of these, if found suitable, will be absorbed permanently. The youth and defence aspirants have expressed their anguish by riots, protests and disruptions. Sensing an opportunity to create chaos, they are well supported by opposition parties. I am sure 90% of the protestors do not even know the details of Agnipath or what they are protesting against. The situation is akin to the ‘Kisan Andolan’.
- Soldiering is a serious profession and short-term Agniveers will destroy the core competencies of the Army and make the nation’s combat readiness weaker.
- Defence forces have always maintained exacting selection criteria. By Agnipath entry, we are agreeing to dilute our standards of intake and training. In an Army career, the first three years are very crucial for having a strong foundation. The absence of long-term competence and skill enhancement will not be good.
- My other fear is that as the scheme becomes old, dull and lacklustre, demand for more and more privileges and concessions such as options for permanent service/extensions/ex-servicemen status/ECHS/CSD facilities will be raised.
- The Agniveers will also be looking at these four years for enhancement of their qualifications, getting awards for trophy display sake and focusing on post defence career options. Soldiering will certainly take a back seat.
- A large number of physically fit and weapon-trained ex-Agniveers will be available in society. Not finding a suitable vocation after Defence’s tenure, they will be tempted to join terrorists, Naxals, dacoits and other anti-national elements.
- Optimising Defence Budget. Approx 40% of the defence pension budget goes to civilian defence employees, who are about 22% compared to approx 78% for military pensioners. It is interesting to know that there are 5.85 lakh civilian-defence employees, who are paid from the defence budget. Need for civilian support in the ratio of 1:4 needs introspection. Additionally, Rs 1000 crore annually goes on attached MoF personnel.
- Induction into CAPF thru Defence. The most simple method of optimising defence expenditure is to have induction into CAPF and PMF via defence forces, after a tenure of four years. After four years, 75% of Agniveers, who do not make it to the permanent cadre in defence should be absorbed directly into CAPF and state police forces. The duplicity of training by Defence and CAPF will be avoided, reducing the training cost. This will resolve all the likely challenges of Agniveers.
DON’T EXPERIMENT WITH DEFENCE
In war, there are no runners-up. Either you are a winner or you are not there. For that moment of reckoning, we select the best man and machine for war fighting. It is the man behind the machine that matters the most. They lead from the front setting personal example of bravery, courage, perseverance and competence. Professionalism, Leadership, camaraderie, regimentation and battle experience are developed over a period of time. In Agnipath, these battle-winning factors will certainly be compromised. Such experiments tinkering with established norms of Defence Forces are better avoided.
Expenditure on defence should be taken as insurance on growth and prosperity or a premium to be paid for unhindered growth. In the Army, we are preparing hardcore, battle-worthy and time-tested soldiers, where no compromise is made with the safety and security of the Nation. Four years, with truncated training, will be too short a time to mould them into passionate fearless soldiers, ready for combat against trained terrorists and battle-worthy soldiers. Adventures to experiment with the DNA of the Armed Forces and its operational readiness, in the name of ‘economy of resources’ should be best avoided.
(The writer is an avid reader and prolific writer. Post retirement, he is a Social Activist, Career Consultant and a Motivational Speaker of repute. He can be contacted at www.majgencpsingh.com)