Agnipath 'not enough' for army diehards from Rajasthan's Shekhawati region

Several aspirants expressed dismay with the scheme saying they train hard to prepare for the army rallies, some even doing that for five-six years, but doing all that for mere four years of service.
Image used for representational purposes only. (PTI)
Image used for representational purposes only. (PTI)

JHUNJHUNU: Waking up at 3.30 am with a dream to serve in the Indian Army and going out for a run has been a daily routine for Deepak Meel for the last couple of years, but he carries a sense of disappointment. Reason -- Agnipath scheme for soldiers' recruitment.

Like Meel, hundreds of youths follow a similar routine every day to prepare for army recruitment in the Shekhawati region. They all face the same anguish.

Though the aspirants are not vocal about political implications of the scheme introduced last year in June, discussions among the locals clearly reflect resentment towards the central government led by the BJP, which seeks to wrest back power in the state in the November 25 Assembly election.

While BJP leaders claim there is no negative atmosphere around the scheme, Congress, its main rival nationally, asserts not everything is all right with the scheme.

The party claims that many aspirants, ex-servicemen, and those who are still serving, are not happy with the scheme.

Agnipath offers a service tenure of four years to soldiers with a provision of selection of 25 per cent of them for a further period of service.

The scheme is for recruitment below the officer rank.

Several aspirants PTI spoke to expressed dismay with the scheme saying they train hard to prepare for the army rallies, some even doing that for five-six years, but doing all that for mere four years of service is no justice.

"We start running in the stadium at 4 am which is followed by exercise for one and a half hours. What is there left to expect from the government, it has already brought Agnipath. Some of us are preparing for four years or more and will get the service period of only four years. This is absolutely wrong," Meel told PTI during his exercise session in the local stadium.

Another aspirant, Ram Singh, said that it is their 'jazba' which makes them prepare for defence forces and fit enough to be recruited.

"While we sweat it out and give it our all, the government brought Agnipath. It has forced several youths to stop nursing any dream to get into the armed forces," he said.

Singh said that even the options for training too have become very limited in villages, as several coaching academies have closed their units, shifting them to the district headquarters.

"We do not see army recruitment as a job or service, for us it is a dream. It's an honour to serve in the army. We have seen martyrs being cremated with such honour. Now, with this Agnipath scheme, things have changed," said Vikas Takhar.

"When an Agniveer (soldier) returns home after four years of service, he will not have that much of respect and he will also face the challenge of finding another job," he said.

Takhar said that almost every house in Jhunjhunu has connections with an ex-serviceman or a serving personnel or someone who died in the line of fire.

Shekhawati region mainly comprises Churu, Sikar, and Jhunjhunu districts and the belt is known for its passion for defence services among its people.

Youths running in sports grounds, farms, and on roads at the crack of dawn is a common sight here.

However, the region which once throbbed with training academies is left with only a fraction of them.

"There has been a significant decline in numbers of youths preparing for army recruitment. The government has done no good by bringing this scheme. We hope this has an impact in the upcoming elections," said a morning walker.

Congress Jhunjhunu president Dinesh Sunda said, "There is a huge impact of this scheme in the entire Shekhawati region. Ex-servicemen are against the scheme and youths are also unhappy. Everyone knows that the Modi government is responsible for this deceit and they are ready to give BJP a befitting answer in the elections."

He said that a rally of ex-servicemen will be taken out in Jhunjhunu in coming days on the issue of Agnipath scheme.

"Agnipath scheme is indeed a key issue in Shekhawati. BJP will have to face a heat on the issue," Surendra Beniwal, another leader of Congress from Pilani, said.

AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also talked about disappointment among youths because of Agnipath scheme in her recent rallies in Dausa and Jhunjhunu districts.

BJP leader and former chairman of Sainik Kalyan Board Prem Singh Bajor insisted that there is no adverse impact of the scheme.

"There is absolutely no negativity about the Agnipath scheme. Youths are happy," Bajor, who is contesting assembly election from Neem ka Thana seat (Sikar), said.

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