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Will BJP Scrap the Agniveer Scheme This Year ?

Will BJP Scrap the Agniveer Scheme This Year ?

The incoming government’s handling of this issue will be a crucial test of its ability to navigate the complexities of coalition politics and deliver on its promises of modernization and fiscal prudence.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi celebrating the Diwali with the jawans of the Indian Army and BSF, in the Gurez Valley, near the Line of Control, in Jammu and Kashmir, on October 19, 2017.

The Agniveer scheme, a landmark military recruitment program introduced by the Narendra Modi government in 2022, has emerged as a topic of intense debate and scrutiny in the lead-up to the formation of the next National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Center.

As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeks the support of its key allies to secure a majority in the Lok Sabha, the future of the Agniveer scheme has become a crucial bargaining chip, with coalition partners like the Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] and the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) [LJP] demanding a comprehensive review of the program.

The Agniveer Scheme: A Contentious Recruitment Model

The Agniveer scheme, introduced with the aim of modernizing the Indian armed forces and reducing long-term financial burdens, has been a subject of significant controversy since its inception. The scheme involves recruiting youth between the ages of 17.5 and 21 for a four-year tenure, with only 25% of the Agniveers being retained for an additional 15 years of service. The remaining 75% are provided with a one-time ‘Seva Nidhi’ package and are expected to return to civilian life, armed with the skills and experience gained during their short stint in the military.

Concerns Raised by Allies and Opposition

The JD(U), a crucial BJP ally, has been at the forefront of the calls for a review of the Agniveer scheme. The party’s chief spokesperson, KC Tyagi, has stated that a “section of voters has been upset over the Agniveer scheme” and that the party wants the “shortcomings” in the scheme to be “discussed in detail and removed.” Similarly, the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) [LJP] has also expressed its desire to revisit the scheme, with its leader Chirag Paswan indicating a willingness to discuss the matter with the incoming government.

The opposition, too, has been highly critical of the Agniveer scheme. The Samajwadi Party (SP) chief, Akhilesh Yadav, has gone so far as to demand the immediate scrapping of the scheme, stating that the government should “accept it as their mistake” and provide age relaxation to the unemployed youth who aspire to join the military.

The Potential Impact of Scrapping the Agniveer Scheme

Should the incoming NDA government decide to scrap or significantly modify the Agniveer scheme, the consequences could be far-reaching. The traditional model of recruitment, where soldiers serve longer tenures and are entitled to pensions, would likely be reinstated. This, in turn, could lead to a substantial increase in the government’s long-term pension liabilities, potentially impacting its efforts to lower the fiscal deficit to below 4.5% of GDP by FY26.

The Rationale Behind the Agniveer Scheme

The Agniveer scheme was introduced with the aim of modernizing the Indian armed forces and reducing the long-term financial burden associated with pensions and other benefits. Under the traditional recruitment model, soldiers have longer service tenures, leading to higher cumulative salary costs compared to the short-term service under the Agniveer scheme. Additionally, the extensive and repeated training programs required over a soldier’s career under the traditional model incur higher costs, which the Agniveer scheme seeks to optimize by limiting the training period to four years.

Balancing Concerns and Aspirations

The demands for a review of the Agniveer scheme from the BJP’s allies and the opposition highlight the need for the incoming government to strike a delicate balance between addressing the concerns of various stakeholders and maintaining the long-term financial sustainability of the armed forces. While the Agniveer scheme may have faced criticism for its perceived impact on the job prospects and security of the youth, the government must also consider the potential consequences of abandoning the program altogether.

The Army’s Internal Assessment and Potential Modifications

In a significant development, the Indian Army has reportedly conducted an internal assessment of the Agniveer scheme and is considering suggesting some adjustments to the incoming government. This review is aimed at helping the new administration potentially modify the scheme, addressing the concerns raised by various parties.

The Larger Implications for Defense Spending and Fiscal Consolidation

The decision to either retain, modify, or scrap the Agniveer scheme will have broader implications for the government’s defense spending and its efforts to achieve fiscal consolidation. Increased pension liabilities, salaries, and training expenses under a reinstated traditional recruitment model would necessitate a higher allocation to the defense sector, potentially impacting other areas of government spending or requiring additional revenue generation or borrowing.

The Role of Kingmakers in the NDA’s Policy Decisions

The emergence of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister-designate N. Chandrababu Naidu as kingmakers in the formation of the new NDA government has added an additional layer of complexity to the Agniveer debate. As the BJP falls short of a majority on its own, the demands and bargaining power of these allies will be crucial in shaping the incoming government’s policies, including the future of the Agniveer scheme.

The Congress Party’s Stance and Its Electoral Promise

The opposition Congress party has been a vocal critic of the Agniveer scheme, with party leader Rahul Gandhi promising to scrap the program if the INDIA bloc, of which the Congress is a part, comes to power. The party has argued that the scheme will leave Agniveers unemployed at the age of 25 and affect the cohesion within the armed forces, as short-term recruits serve alongside soldiers eligible for secure pensions and more generous allowances.

The Potential Modifications to the Agniveer Scheme

As the government considers the feedback and concerns raised by various stakeholders, the possibility of modifying the Agniveer scheme rather than scrapping it entirely has emerged. Reports suggest that the government is considering raising the recruitment age to 23 and increasing the retention percentage to 50%, which could address some of the criticisms leveled against the program.

The Delicate Balance of Fiscal Responsibility and Social Aspirations

The decision on the future of the Agniveer scheme will require the incoming government to carefully weigh the competing priorities of fiscal responsibility, defense preparedness, and the aspirations of the youth. While the Agniveer scheme may have been designed to optimize defense spending, the concerns raised by allies and the opposition cannot be ignored, as they reflect the broader societal impact of the program.

Conclusion: The Agniveer Scheme at a Crossroads

As the BJP prepares to form the next government with the support of its allies, the fate of the Agniveer scheme hangs in the balance. The demands for a comprehensive review and potential modifications to the program underscore the need for a nuanced and inclusive approach to policymaking, one that balances the long-term sustainability of the armed forces with the aspirations and concerns of the youth and the wider public. The incoming government’s handling of this issue will be a crucial test of its ability to navigate the complexities of coalition politics and deliver on its promises of modernization and fiscal prudence.

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