Angry crowds in India set an office of the country’s ruling party on fire, attacked railway infrastructure and blocked roads in widening protests against India’s New Military Recruitment System.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced an overhaul of the recruitment process for the 1.38 million-strong armed forces, aiming to bring in more people on short, four-year contracts to lower the average age of personnel.
But many potential recruits object, saying they should be allowed to serve longer than four years. Opposition parties and some members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party say the system will lead to more unemployment in the country grappling with joblessness.
Police used batons and tear gas to break up demonstrations in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan states after young people took to the streets and damaged government buildings.
In Bihar, the worst-hit area in the east of the country, almost 25,000 police were deployed after demonstrations spread to a dozen towns in eight districts.
The government has said the armed forces aim to recruit about 46,000 people under the new system this year and will keep only 25% of them on at the end of their four-year terms.
Avnish Kumar, a19-year-old from Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia district who hoped to join the army, said he was disappointed with the new scheme.
“The tenure of the job is only four years and only 25% of people will get a job after that,” he told a news reporter. “And after that, there is no pension.”
‘Path of Fire’
Military officials said the new system, called Agnipath, meaning “path of fire” in Hindi, would help bring down the average age of the armed forces.
In the Indian army, the largest of its three services, the average age would drop to 26 from 32, its chief, General Manoj Pande, said.
‘Where will we go after four years?’
Previously, soldiers have been recruited by the army, navy and air force separately and typically enter service for up to 17 years for the lowest ranks.
The shorter tenure has caused concern among potential recruits and security analysis.
“Where will we go after working for only four years?” said a young man surrounded by fellow protesters in Bihar’s Jehanabad district. “We will be homeless after four years of service. So we have jammed the roads.”
But defense minister Rajnath Singh defended the plans, saying they aim to “strengthen the security of the country.”
In northern Uttar Pradesh state, protesters threw stones at buses in the city of Varanasi. In the northern town of Rewari, police used wooden sticks to disperse the protesters, who had blocked a bus station and parts of a key highway linking the Rajasthan State with New Delhi.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is facing national elections in 2024, is under pressure to provide jobs as India’s economy recovers from the pandemic slump.
One idea behind short-term military recruitment is that those trained by the armed forces can later seek jobs with the police or the private sector.
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