Even as violent protests are seen against the Centre’s Agnipath program in parts of the country, several ex-servicemen from a Maharashtra ‘Satara village, known for having at least one member of each family in the armed forces, have backed the recruitment plan, saying that it would not only provide a job opportunity for young people, but also open up several opportunities for them.
The village named Apshinge, located about 15 km from Satara town, is also known as Apshinge Military for its contribution to the armed forces. For generations, virtually every house in this village has had someone serving in the military.
Village veterans say local young people, aspiring to join the armed forces, approach them to find out what the Agnipath program was all about, and they receive advice.
“Although there are ongoing protests in some parts of the country against the Agnipath program, we as a village are positive about it and believe it will bring more opportunities as more young people will be inducted into the armed forces, which will help solve the problem of unemployment,” said Subedar Sudhir Karande (retired), whose great-grandfather and brothers had served in the First World War.
According to available records, the village lost around 46 of its members as soldiers during World War I and after independence, a number of soldiers from this village took part in different wars including the 1962 war against China, 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan and the Kargil War.
“Our village is known for giving our sons to the service of the nation and it is in our blood. The young people are positive about the program (Agnipath) and they know that the type of education and tradition that they inherit, they can excel (once they become Agniveers) and do a 25% batch cut for permanent employment in the armed forces. We talk to aspirants and give them advice,” he said.
Subedar Sandip Nikam, who retired in 2020, called the Agnipath program “good” and said those with the ability can continue in the military. “Even those who don’t make it to 25%, there will be several avenues open to them once they join the mainstream after four years of service,” he said.
Asked about the skills he learned during his service, he said the first thing you learn in the military is discipline.
“After I retired I chose to explore my skills in agriculture and today I am a successful farmer. However, I am also capable of doing other things like running an academy for army aspirants or start a yoga class,” Nikam said.
Nikam’s son, Yash (19), who wants to join the army, said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the recruitment process has been affected and several aspirants are now facing the bar of ‘age.
“Given the pandemic situation, which has affected army recruitment, the government should have waited to roll out the program,” he said.
Asked about the government’s claim that Agniveers will have more opportunities after their four-year term, he said many will come out with certificates in hand after their service and demand for jobs will skyrocket and that each year the number would continue to increase.
Captain Udhaji Nikam (retired), who served in the army for 10 years, said a question was asked what the Agniveers will do when they return to society as civilians after completing their four years service in the armed forces.
“But I’m sure they won’t have to return home. There are several avenues open to them afterward. They will have opportunities in the central armed police as well as in the police force of the ‘State.Job will not be one as soldiers’ leadership qualities develop in the military,’ he said.
He added that army soldiers never receive specialized training on how to rescue people during floods, but such a situation arises and when they are deployed in such a mission, their general training and skills in leadership are helpful.
He said that since a large number of young people will be inducted into the defense forces, the Agnipath program will create a youthful profile.
He, however, said the scheme was announced suddenly and came as a shock as the recruitment process was affected earlier due to the pandemic and aspirants were worried about the age mark.
“To avoid the current situation (protest against the program), the government should have slowed down by creating awareness about the program first,” he said.
Vikram Ghadge, who runs an academy for army aspirants at Apshinge Military, said all of his students were positive about the program.
“While there are arguments over the future of Agniveers after four years, we at our academy are grooming students with the aim of them entering the 25% batch that will be permanently inducted into the academy. ‘army after serving four years as an Agniveer,” he said.
The Agnipath system for recruiting soldiers in the three armies was unveiled by the government on Tuesday. It is planned by the government as a major overhaul of the decades-old selection process to improve the youthful profile of the three services.
However, several states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana, have witnessed violent protests against the program, which provides for the recruitment of soldiers for a short period of four years and the most retired without a pension.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)