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The path to Agnipath through historical blunders

The decisions taken by the Congress governments before and after 1962 meant that the Indian Army had to plan for mass future retirements instead of gradual ones, notes Ajay Bhatt in a Twitter thread.

Opinion The path to Agnipath through historical blunders
New Delhi, First Published Jun 20, 2022, 11:08 AM IST

In the backdrop of protests against Agnipath, the new recruitment process for the armed forces, experts have reiterated that the need for restructuring the armed forces is not new, but rather something that has been sought for a long time.

According to Alok Bhatt, former Economic Advisor to the Uttarakhand government, the reorganisation exercises and two administrative rejig were necessitated by the wars of 1962 and 1971, the Kargil conflict and Operation Parakram.

Also Read: Government defends Agnipath; busts 7 myths about Agniveers

The Shock of 1962-63

Bhatt, in a series of posts on Twitter, said that until the 1962 war debacle, armed forces were not a priority for Nehru's government.

In fact, historical documents from the US State Department show that in 1963, the United States was possibly dictating terms to the Indian government. One such document, dated April 25, 1963, had then US Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara highlight how even though India initially sought to recruit 14 lakh soldiers it had been trimmed to 10 lakh and the US wanted it further reduced to 8 lakh. Incidentally, Krishna Menon, the then Indian defence minister, was part of that meeting in the US. 

He claimed that it was only after Nehru appointed Yashwantrao Balwantrao Chavan as defence replacing Krishna Menon, that efforts were made to rebuild the Indian armed forces. "In a few years, the strength of Indian armed forces strength went up by almost 33 per cent and training capacity went up from 5700 to 40,000. OTAs were started and officers n jawans were recruited in huge numbers."

However, this single decision meant that the Indian Army had to plan for mass future retirements instead of gradual ones.

Bhatt claimed, "The recruitment spree of 1963 onwards saw Indian army size go up from 2 lakh to 8 lakh by 1967. Later on, the Congress government had to increase the jawans' tenure from 7 years in the pre-1965 period to 17 years later. Thanks to these two moves, the budget of armed forces went haywire and pension bills began shooting up!"

Need of the Hour

The move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reorganise Indian armed forces by way of 'Agnipath' needs to be seen in the proper perspective as it was preceded by an exercise in cutting extra flab as well as discounting policies that promoted wasteful expenditure, he said.

Stating that the Indian Army is going in for a younger army considering armed forces need young and savvy personnel to manage new warfare and equipments, Bhatt said Agniveers will adapt faster to modern equipment and will help in the modernization plans of Narendra Mod government for armed forces.

Reorganisation of armed forces was considered necessary as the Kargil review committee report of 1999 had made recommendations on similar grounds. 

In short, Agnipath Scheme is aimed at reorganizing the Indian Armed forces and is the first such reorganisation done as a conscious choice to effect a change unlike the previous two forced by the wars of 1962 and 1971; to help equip them with an ability to meet and defeat all the emerging threats.

The China and Pakistan threat

Agnipath style of reorganisation has also been necessitated by the fact that successive Congress governments kept postponing demands of the armed forces that, in the wake of Chinese threats and geopolitical requirements, can no longer be postponed/ignored.

With an assertive China continuously working towards modernizing its army, for the land and maritime warzones, worsening neighbourhood with a fas-deteriorating Pakistan, and an unstable Afghanistan, securing India's security environment has become a complex endeavour.

"Alongside budgetary support, Indian security needs need to be matched with a lean and mean war machine; thus the Narendra Modi government decided on operationalising Agnipath into a desirable scheme as part of overall modernization needs," he added.

Also Read: Agnipath scheme: Undertaking of no part in protests, arson a must for applicants

Also Read: Agnipath scheme will kill India's youth, finish Army: Priyanka Gandhi


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