Even as the massive backlash over the Centre’s new military recruitment scheme called Agnipath continued, the Modi government tried to control the outrage by offering 10 per cent quota for ‘agniveers’ in defence ministry jobs as well as in Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and Assam Rifles.
Faced with massive protest, the Centre has taken a step back and announced changes in the policy in order to pacify agitators. In a social media post, the ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced a 10 per cent reservation for ‘agniveers’ in CAPFs and Assam Rifles. “Further, for the first batch of Agniveer, the age relaxation will be for 5 years beyond the prescribed upper age limit,” it said.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced that the government will reserve 10 per cent jobs in the defence ministry for ‘agniveers’. The 10 per cent reservation will be implemented in the Indian Coast Guard and defence civilian posts, and all the 16 Defence public sector undertakings. Singh also chaired a top-level meeting with service chiefs in Delhi.
Army aspirants continued to take to streets in several parts of India demanding a rollback. In Bihar, which has been the epicentre of protests, violence continued across several districts with a mob setting four vehicles on fire in Jahanabad. Angry students pelted stones at police teams in Masaurhi and Jamui. Over one thousand protesters with sticks in hand and chanting Jai Shri Ram in Katihar, marched on the streets.
Eighty-six people were arrested for their alleged involvement in arson at Danapur railway station near Patna in which a train was set ablaze. A car was also set afire near a fuel station. Several trains were held up outside Barrackpore station in North 24 Parganas district in West Bengal as a group of agitators resorted to a unique way of protest by doing push-ups on railway tracks. There was an altercation between the daily railway commuters and the agitators. Some of the commuters also blamed a section of the media for unnecessarily highlighting the protests which encourage the agitators.
Hundreds of aspirants reached the Kerala capital following information circulated on social media and tried to march towards the Raj Bhavan from Thiruvananthapuram central railway station even as police tried to dissuade them. The youths later did pushups on the roadside near Raj Bhavan. The march culminated near the Raj Bhavan where police had set up barricades.
Delhi police have arrested one person and detained 18 others while they were staging protests. “Surender Sharma alias Fauji started instigating a group of 50-60 protesters by inflammatory speech and later got into a scuffle with police,” the deputy commissioner of police (Dwarka) M Harsh Wardhan said. Sharma was arrested while 18 protesters were detained. Other protesters were immediately dispersed.
Meanwhile, the funeral procession of the youth killed police firing at Secunderabad railway station was taken out in Telangana’s Warangal district amid shutdown and protest. Hundreds of people were participating in the procession.
The violent protests have been reported from parts of UP, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Bengal and Jharkhand. Anti-Agnipath protest at Secunderabad railway station and fears of similar protest at major railway stations in Andhra Pradesh led to cancellation of several trains.
No rollback: Military
No youngster taking part in the ongoing violent protests will be inducted into the armed forces, the military establishment warned on Sunday, stressing there will be no rollback of the new recruitment process that will kick off next week with the training of Agniveers to begin in November-December.
Additional secretary in the defence ministry’s department of military affairs Lt General Anil Puri blamed “inimical elements and coaching centres” preparing youth for military recruitment for inciting protests against the scheme.
He maintained the various concessions being announced now for the 75% of Agniveers to be demobilised from each batch after four-year tenures, including 10% reservation in the central armed police forces (CAPFs), Assam Rifles, Coast Guard and 16 defence PSUs, were not under duress. “They (the concessions) were planned in advance,” he said. “The Indian Army’s foundation lies in discipline. There’s no space for arson or vandalism. Every individual will have to give a written pledge or undertaking they were not part of the protests or vandalism. There is no place for indiscipline in the armed forces,” Lt-Gen Puri said.