Agnipath fits more to garrison states, not India : Military expert James Bowden

Army aspirants are protesting nationwide for the third consecutive day against the newly launched Agnipath recruitment scheme. Around the nation, angry protesters have turned violent and resorted to stone-pelting, vandalism and scorching of public properties. The demonstrators want the government to withdraw the Agnipath scheme. 

Amid all the violence and chaos, Maktoob Media reached out to a US-based military, public policy and Middle East region expert James Bowden.

Bowden expressed his disagreement over the fundamental idea of the Agnipath recruitment scheme. He also stated it is not the army’s role to provide job opportunities and placements. 

“Using the army for social services and job placement are not the role of the army, and in many places where it (schemes like Agnipath) has been tried, it has failed.”

According to Bowden, a recruitment scheme like Agnipath fits more to a “garrison state” like Israel and Greece. A garrison state is basically a small country that requires every citizen to have basic arms and combat training in times of emergency.

Mr Bowden said, “However, most of those countries only require everyone to have one full year of training with once a year or once every two years follow up reserve training to keep skills sharp, not staying in the army full time for four years.”

Agnipath Scheme has potential to cause geopolitical tensions

James Bowden argues the new recruitment plan can cause further geopolitical tensions between India and its rivals — China and Pakistan.

He states, “this (Agnipath) is a plan that may cause Pakistan to increase its military base number of soldiers because it has to defend against such a large number of potential adversaries.”

“It could increase tensions with India’s neighbours as they try to keep pace with this manpower surge,” Mr Bowden adds. The analyst further tries to look for potential reasons in the geopolitical domain as to why India is raising its manpower.

He wonders, “does India foresee a conflict with China that may require such a massive amount of soldiers? China is the main concern of the Indian military at present, with some elements of potential conflict with Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Some American European countries do recruit based on enriching hard skills required for securing employability after their tenure. Those skills are data entry, radio repair, electronics maintenance, mechanical engineering, and so on.

Most importantly, those recruits are aware that they will have to use those hard skills in some jobs after completing their tenure. 

Bowden says, “The American and some Western armies do recruit based on offering job skills being gained for service, but most recruits know that they will use these after they have completed their service and they are hard skills like data entry, radio repair, electronics maintenance or mechanical engineering. These hard skills can be used but roles are limited so it is not seen as a country-wide job for job trade.”

However, there is a catch that there are very limited roles for using such skills in regular employment opportunities.

“In some instances, the skills gained won’t be used in civilian contexts. If this is training to fight or use a gun or something in that capacity then there won’t be many good job transitional skills gained,” points out Bowden.

Major consequences of Agnipath Scheme

Mr Bowden believes a certain number of retired Agniveers may join militias or terror groups. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll join such groups.

He says, “I don’t see this as automatically guaranteeing that the Indian army recruits will join a militia or become imported terrorists.”

“Certain numbers of them may do so and that can be a concern, but others are going to either get good supporting jobs or end up right back in the slums.”

According to the expert, the worst consequence would be the basic psychology and mindset of the inducted Agniveers because they know they may or may not be chosen after the four years.

“The two worst outcomes would be the basic psychology of masses of people knowing that they may / or may not be chosen”,Bowden told Maktoob.

For one group, the entire tenure will be full of competition to be the best of all in order to get selected after four years. This extreme competitive nature will make them lose sight of the ultimate objective which is to serve the order.

“For some, it will mean severe competition for placement and continuing on in the service and not washing out. This will make some hyper-aggressive and will lose sight of the ultimate objective.”

For another group, who knows they’ll naturally not be selected after four years, they would be a beacon of extreme negativity and may resort to protesting and even rioting. 

“For the others, those fearing that they will be mathematical without a chance, they will be greatly disappointed and these recruits could turn very negative for a short time even rioting or protesting that they were never given a fair chance. This could lead to anger or a loss of hope and, as stated above, experience a downturn.”

Another worst outcome is that a vast number of Agniveers will know that they aren’t going to be chosen after fours, so they’ll just pass their four years without taking the job seriously. 

“…large percentage know that they will likely never be chosen for future service so they just ‘do their time’ and they will walk through their service and not take it very seriously, even becoming a drag on those sincerely there for a military career.”

Ultimately, the entire ordeal will result in the military losing its professionalism. 

Mr Bowden states, “Even Western soldiers can face a number of outcomes, it is all based on them and their heart, not on their training alone. Some guys leave a hardened military life and then get on the streets because they lose that drive and that discipline that supported them.”

He further adds, “I know many that turned to drugs and alcohol immediately after service, some stayed as we say ‘straight’ and maintained a good life.”

According to the analyst, after the end of Agniveers’ tenure, there are chances most of them will be unemployed rather than being employed.

Mr Bowden says, “It does appear that the retired soldiers will find job opportunities difficult to find.”

“I can only say that, for some, it will help, but maybe not everyone. Some of the job skills may translate into the civilian market very well and others will not, other men will find that their skills are very precise and limited in either a number of companies or locations.”

Bowden’s biggest concern is “whether they [Agniveers] would prove insubordinate or truculent when they are brought in.”

He says, “They will be the hardest to train, to give instruction to, and will benefit the least because they will not put their effort into the process and the time and money will be wasted. A few may arm themselves for future trouble, but the majority may simply melt back into their local communities and go back to the life that they had already chosen.”

“I think that the greatest potential of this policy is that it will be unsuccessful. It will rotate men out of the employment market and take them away for a while, feed them, and clothe them, but ultimately I don’t see it of being a particular or important benefit,” he added.