As violence and protests against the Centre’s Agnipath scheme continued unabated on Friday, despite a minor “compromise” offered by the government in the form of a one-time two-year increase in the eligibility age of recruitment, Opposition parties said the government needed to call a special session of Parliament and meetings of the Defence Consultative Committee for more extensive discussions.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President J P Nadda, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah came in support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “transformative” scheme and the compromise “that showed PM Modi cared for the youth”, suggesting that the government had walked the extra mile and would not be accommodative hereafter.
But, violence, mayhem and arson continued to rock the country, with Bihar, where the BJP is in power in alliance with the Janata Dal United, leading the pack. Properties of BJP leaders, including the residence of Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi in Bettiah and the BJP office in Madhepura were targeted. At several places across the state, trains were attacked and set on fire.
In Telangana, protesters attacked trains at the Secunderabad railway station, leading to a firing in which a 19-year-old died.
The violence spread to Odisha and hundreds were detained in Tamil Nadu at Vellore and Trichy. Haryana suspended internet services in a bid to get a handle on WhatsApp groups, and Section 144 was imposed in Gurugram. Several metro stations in Delhi were closed to prevent protesters from travelling and ward off damage to property. More than 200 trains were cancelled or suspended.
In Varanasi, the PM’s Lok Sabha constituency, protesters smashed windows and booths at a bus stand. Ballia, in eastern UP, saw violent agitations as well. At most of the places, mobs vented their ire at government property.
“Some protesters have expressed outrage and created chaos against the Agnipath scheme, which has been implemented by the Government of India. Protesters should not resort to violence. There have been reports of protests across 17 places in the state, out of which, Ballia and Aligarh have seen arson. We have received intelligence inputs that some organisations are trying to provoke the protesting mobs against this issue. Police will take further action on this,” UP ADG Prashant Kumar said.
The government’s response was to speed up recruitment. The armed forces had announced the scheme would kick off in 90 days. Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari said recruitment for the Indian Air Force would begin from June 24. The Army will speed up recruitment by issuing a notification for it by Monday as well.
All this hinted that there was no rethink about the scheme in the government, far less the possibility of a rollback. Instead, the government’s intelligence wings were pressed into service to analyse the “forces” behind such a coordinated and seemingly spontaneous protest.
The demands of the protestors ranged from a call for scrapping of the scheme to the considering examinations – physical and written – which aspirants had already taken, based on the original tour-of-duty terms.