India faces wave of widening protests — Analysis

Demonstrators furious at the introduction of military recruitment have set fire to a government building.

Angry crowds have taken to the streets of India over the past two days to protest the government’s proposed overhaul of the country’s military recruitment system, which critics say could lead to unemployment and compromised security.

According to Reuters, the protests began in Bihar’s eastern state on Wednesday. They have spread to neighboring states like Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Agitated youths have so far reportedly set an office of the country’s ruling party on fire, attacked railway infrastructure, burned down several trains and cars, blocked roads and lit up tires in the streets, according to Indian police officials.

Police have fired warning shots after protesters hurled stones at government officials in Haryana’s northern state. Although there are no details on possible casualties,

Meanwhile, in Haryana’s Palwal district, local authorities have resorted to shutting off mobile internet access for the next 24 hours in an attempt to prevent the spread of chaos.

The outrage comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced an overhaul of the recruitment process for India’s 1.38 million-strong army, aiming to bring down the average age of military personnel and reduce government expenses.

Under the new system, dubbed ‘Agnipath’(Path of Fire), men and women between the ages of 17-and-a-half and 21 will be eligible to join India’s armed forces only for a four-year tenure, and only one in four recruits will be allowed to come back to serve on a permanent basis.

Youths aged between 16 and half and 21 could still enroll in the army. They were eligible to receive a pension and had a minimum term of 15 years. Serving in the Army was an appealing career option for many young people because it offered stability and housing.

Agnipath would render these opportunities unavailable to Indian youths already facing a 26% unemployment rate.

“Where will we go after working for only four years?” one protester told Indian news agency ANI. “We will be homeless after four years of service.”

 The new system has caused heated debate among the country’s potential recruits, military veterans, opposition leaders, and even members of Modi’s ruling party, and protestors are now calling on the government to roll back the announced reform.

“We demand that the recruitment be done as it used to be done before,”Another demonstrator added, “nobody wants to go to the army for just four years.”

One member of Modi’s BJP party, Varun Gandhi, wrote an open letter to Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday, warning that, under the new system, 75% of those recruited would become unemployed after their four-year contracts ran out.

“Every year, this number will increase,”In a Facebook post, he warns.

Other politicians have stressed that the proposed four-year tenure for new recruits would be insufficient to uphold the effectiveness of India’s army. Rahul Gandhi (the leader of the opposition party) stated via a Twitter that: “When India faces threats on two fronts, the uncalled for Agnipath scheme reduces the operational effectiveness of our armed forces,”Adding that the ruling party must “stop compromising the dignity, traditions, valor and discipline of our forces.”

The proposal has been defended by the government, who argued that it would bring more benefits. “youthful profile” to India’s military and bring about a transformational shift towards a more tech-savvy armed forces.

It is anticipated that the Agnipath system will bring in 46,000 more youths to the regular army cadre this year. These young men are expected to gain military experience and skills as well leadership and discipline qualities.

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