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Congress vows to revert to old recruitment if elected, scrapping Agnipath

Congress vows to revert to old recruitment if elected, scrapping Agnipath

New Delhi: Stepping up its attack on the Union government over the "Agnipath" military recruitment plan, the Congress claimed on Monday that "gross injustice" was done to young people and asked that individuals who had passed the previous recruitment procedure but were not admitted be instantly hired.

If elected at the Centre, the opposition party promised to reinstate the former recruitment procedure.

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge wrote to President Droupadi Murmu, highlighting the "gross injustice" done to the youngsters seeking regular employment in the armed forces due to the "Agnipath" scheme, and urged her to ensure justice for them.

The future of nearly two lakh young men and women has become uncertain due to the scrapping of the regular recruitment process in the armed forces, Kharge said in his letter to the president, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces.

"There are many well-known issues with the Agnipath scheme. Former Chief of Army Staff General M M Naravane has written that the Army was 'taken by surprise' by Agnipath and that 'for the Navy and Air Force, it came like a bolt from the blue'," he said.

"Furthermore, the scheme is discriminatory among our jawans by creating parallel cadres of soldiers who are expected to work on similar tasks, but with very different emoluments, benefits and prospects. The majority of Agniveers will be released into an uncertain job market after four years of service, which some have argued could affect social stability," Mr Kharge said.

Tagging Mr Kharge's letter, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on X: "We are with the military candidates, who are full of patriotism and bravery, in the fight for justice." Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said with the spirit of patriotism and service in mind, lakhs of youngsters across the country work hard day and night.

"Whether it is cold, hot or rainy, they wake up early in the morning and practise running. They think that they will join the Army, serve the country and also get employment. The BJP government crushed the dreams of lakhs of promising youth of the country by bringing Agnivir Yojana," she said in a post on X.

Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters here, Congress general secretary Sachin Pilot said there was no demand for such a scheme.

"In the long term, this scheme will not benefit anybody except saving some money for the government of India. We in the Congress party feel that we should go back to the old recruitment system," Mr Pilot said.

If some changes are to be introduced to modernise the armed forces, that is very much possible in the current setup, but to completely eradicate the old system is not right, he added.

"It is closing avenues of employment. I think it has been done in an ad-hoc fashion, without much thought to the future prospects of how the Army would function. We in the Congress believe that the Agnipath programme is not a positive development and we will certainly go back to the old recruitment system when people vote us back," Mr Pilot said, with party leaders Pawan Khera and Deepender Hooda by his side.

"We want to say that if this government can spend ₹ 4,100 crore on G-20, ₹ 8,400 crore for the Prime Minister's airplane, ₹ 20,000 crore for the Central Vista Project and ₹ 6,500 crore every year for government advertisements, then I believe that we should not play with our entire recruitment process just to save money, this is for the future, for our security. This can pose a challenge somewhere to the integrity and security of India," Mr Pilot said.

Mr Pilot said India has one of the finest fighting forces in the world and its defence forces are second to none.

"But their valour, their strength and their dedication to the nation should be regarded and respected for future generations and we all feel that by compromising on the process of recruitment of the armed forces, it may not augur well for our future," he said.

Mr Hooda said several military recruitment processes were completed during and before the outbreak of COVID-19 and only joining was left. But after the introduction of the "Agnipath" scheme, these youngsters selected by the government were not given joining letters.

"These youngsters met (former Congress chief) Rahul Gandhi and shared their pain. Since then, Rahulji has been continuously raising his voice," he said.

"Neither the Army nor the youngsters joining the Army had put forward the demand for the scheme," he said.

"When we asked what will the Agniveers do after four years of service, BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya had said those youngsters will be given the job of a watchman in the BJP office. I want to tell the BJP that the youngsters of the country join the Army with a sense of patriotism and not with a sense of becoming a watchman outside the BJP office," Mr Hooda said.

Mr Hooda accused the BJP of playing politics over the defence forces of the country.

In his letter to the president, Mr Kharge said, "Our youth cannot be allowed to suffer in this manner. I appeal to you to ensure that justice is done." The "Agnipath" scheme provides for recruiting youngsters in the age bracket of 17 years and a half to 21 years for a four-year period, with a provision to retain 25 per cent of them for 15 more years.

With PTI inputs

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