Lakhs of unemployed youth aspiring to join the armed forces have come on to the streets in mass protests in many parts of the country. They are protesting against the Central Government’s announcement on June 14 of a new scheme for recruitment of youth into the armed forces called Agnipath.
Until now, new recruits into the armed forces were assured pension and other benefits when they completed their service period and retired. Instead of regular long-term employment, youth recruited under the new Agnipath scheme will be employed for a fixed 4-year term. They will not recieve pension or other benefits. The government has announced it will hire 46,000 agniveers in 2022-23. After four years in the armed forces, a quarter of these will be recruited as regular soldiers while the remaining three-fourth will rejoin the army of the unemployed. They will be given a lump sum severance package which could reach Rs. 11 lakhs. They will not be eligible for any pension.
The new scheme is designed to recruit youth who are between 17.5 and 21 years of age. For the current year alone, a concession has been made, to recruit persons between 17.5 and 23 years of age. This is because recruitment had been halted due to lockdowns in the past two years, 2020 and 2021.
Spokesmen of the ruling class are claiming that the Agnipath scheme is aimed at creating a “younger and better” army, navy and air force. However, the age at which agniveers are going to be recruited is not any different from the age at which regular recruitment had been taking place until 2019. What was the need to replace regular recruitment with 4-year contracts? That change has nothing to do with the age of the armed forces. It is motivated solely by the aim of saving on pension payments in the government budget.
The Central Government looks at both wage payments to current soldiers and pension payments to retired soldiers as an expenditure burden. This is in line with the outlook of the capitalists, who look at the wages paid to employed workers as a “cost” to be minimised in order to maximise their profits.
Even as the Prime Minister and other central ministers keep offering sweet words now and then, about the “brave jawans defending our borders”, they have worked out a scheme to reduce the burden of paying pension to retired soldiers.
Youth who had already cleared many steps towards regular recruitment in the armed forces are angry that the rules of the game have suddenly been changed. It is like having stood in line for a very long time, and then being told when you reach the counter that you have to go back to the bottom of the line and start all over again.
Spokesmen of the capitalists and of the government are highlighting some violent incidents such as the burning of buses and destruction of other public property, which have taken place in the midst of the mass youth protests. The chiefs of the armed forces have declared that anybody who participates in these protests will not be recruited into the armed forces.
It is a well-kown practice of the state authorities, to send in their agents to incite violence and anarchy in mass protests, in order to discredit the protesting people and justify crushing them with brute force. Buses and trains are burnt, and that is used as the pretext to discredit the protests and threaten those who are protesting with dire consequences. This also serves to divert the attention of people from the real problem. In this case, the real problem is the massive unemployment among the youth and the worsening quality of the limited job opportunities.
Society, in order to progress, requires that all its young women and men who are capable of work are productively employed. . Secure employment and regular incomes for the working people are necessary for the extended reproduction of society. It is a social need. The existing system is not guaranteeing the fulfilment of this need.
The CMIE estimates that total additional employment was only 28 lakhs in 2019-20, the year before the Corona Virus broke out. This is only 14 percent of the estimated two crore unemployed persons in the age-group 18-23. The number of young women and men looking for employment is growing much faster than the numbers finding employment.
In 2020 and 2021, the two years of repeated lockdowns, many more jobs were destroyed than new jobs created. In the armed forces itself, around 1 lakh vacancies which had arisen as a result of retirement, were not filled as there was no fresh recruitment. Now in 2022, new jobs are being created in various branches but most of them are jobs of poor quality, at extremely low wages and with no job security whatsoever.
The failure of the system to provide regular employment to those seeking work is the real problem. There are very few opportunities to get a regular job with social security including pension. Recruitment in the armed forces has been one among those rare opportunities. Converting even that opportunity into fixed-term contracts with no pension is like shutting out a big chunk of the limited avenues for secure regular employment.
The angry reaction of unemployed youth is natural and fully justified.
There is no justification for orienting the economy and government policy towards fulfilling capitalist greed at the expense of fulfilling social need. There is no justification for replacing regular employment in the armed forces with fixed-term employment without pension. Those who are expected to risk their lives for the country must not be treated as an expenditure burden!