Protests strengthen over India’s plan for short-term military contracts

Protests strengthen over India’s plan for short-term military contracts

Protesters in India’s eastern state of Bihar damaged public character and ransacked offices in a railway stop on Saturday, expressing outrage at a new military recruitment plan and demanding the government reverse course.

chief Minister Narendra Modi’s government has introduced a policy called Agnipath or “path of fire” designed to bring more people into the military on four-year contracts to lower the average age of India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces.

A top military general, Lt.-Gen. Anil Puri, told NDTV news channel that the aim of the plan was to make the military more modern and effective.

Analysts said the new policy would also help cut thriving pension costs, but opponents believe it would limit opportunities for long-lasting jobs in the defence forces, with implications for salaries, pensions and other benefits.

Police detain protesters during a demonstration against the military recruitment plan in Chennai on Saturday. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of young men attacked aim coaches, burned tires and clashed with officials at a railway stop in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states.

Authorities cancelled 369 trains nationwide, many of them running by areas witnessing unrest.

Sanjay Singh, a senior police official overseeing law and order in the state, said at the minimum 12 protesters were arrested and at the minimum four policemen injured in clashes.

“Around 2,000 to 2,500 people entered the Masaurhi railway stop and attacked the forces,” he told Reuters.

In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, police arrested at the minimum 250 people under what are called preventative arrests. Some demonstrators accused the police of using excessive force. One person was killed in protests this week.

Some career change

In a bid to contain the outrage, the federal government on Saturday announced concessions for those who will serve under the new rules.

The federal home ministry announced it would save 10 per cent of vacancies in the paramilitary forces and Assam Rifles, a unit in the Indian army, for those who have passed out of the army after the four-year period.

Activists of the Mumbai Pradesh Youth Congress shout slogans during a protest against the government’s new ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme for the army, navy, and air forces, in Mumbai on Saturday. (Sujit Jaiswal/AFP/Getty Images)

The defence ministry stated it would save 10 per cent of its vacancies for those who have completed the term.

“Perhaps because it is a new scheme, people have misunderstood it, but we have been discussing this with everyone, including ex-servicemen,” Rajnath Singh, the defence minister told a conference on Saturday.

The policy calls for retaining 25 per cent of the recruited soldiers after four years of service, with the rest getting priority for other jobs, such as with the state police.

‘Human resource transformation’

The navy chief said on Friday the protests were unexpected and probably the consequence of misinformation about the new system.

A aim coach accompanying on Friday inspects a aim carriage set on fire by protesters demonstrating against the government’s new military recruitment scheme at a railway stop in Secunderabad in India’s Telangana state. (Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

“I didn’t anticipate any protests like this,” Admiral R. Hari Kumar told ANI. “It is the single biggest human resource management transformation that has ever happened in the Indian military.”

The scheme is not open for women in combat roles and there are no current plans to change this.

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