Agnipath is back in focus with the ruckus over it in Parliament. This time the diversion from its core issue is the compensation paid for Agniveers killed in action (KIA). Defence Minister Rajnath Singh claims the government is giving Rs one crore compensation. The facts do not seem to bear this out.

Under government pressure, banks like SBI have agreed to give Rs 50 lakhs against hurriedly contrived life insurance in such cases, but all banks are yet to agree. In the instant case quoted by Rajnath, this is what the media has found out.

The parents of an Agniveer who died in a mine blast, call government claim of Rs one crore compensation a lie and want Agnipath scrapped.

With his famous line “not even an inch of territory lost” while China redrew the LAC in Ladakh and claiming all is hunky-dory in Manipur, NATO perhaps could not bid for Rajnath to replace Jens Stoltenberg because India is not a NATO member.

His hallmark achievements include: thrusting Agnipath down the Armed Forces; breaking the age-old bond between Indian and Nepalese armies with this scheme; forcing untried SPARSH causing misery to hundreds of pensioners because of which TSEWA is going to Court; not all AFTs are functional and certain rulings of AFTs not implemented; spending crores on a battery of lawyers deny disability to veterans; content with annual defence allocations of 1.9% ofGDP below 1962-levels, to name a few.

Agnipath was forced because of the galloping unemployment in the country. The hype about the large defence pension bill ignored the “much larger” expenditure and pension on civil/other government services who are also granted NFU. Moreover, 37% of defence pensions go towards civilian-defence employees including finance ministry civilians on deputation to the defence ministry.

Former Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General M. M. Naravane writes that Agnipath was thrust upon the Armed Forces. But none of the Service Chiefs protested.

A veteran-scholar Colonel, who is a hardcore Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sympathiser, says, “The trick to subjugate an organisation is to infect the head, so that the fence starts eating the crop. This is what has been done to the military and ‘yes men’ are dime a dozen – Cry My Beloved Country Cry.”

The first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat was the first target. The reason why the present CDS General Anil Chauhan has been praising the ‘Agniath’ scheme, brushing aside “some veterans” criticising it, is more than apparent. His recent statement that India does not need a “written” national security policy reinforces it further.

Today, one can witness ‘yes men’ galore extolling Agnipath on TV. But can anyone explain why “all the former Service Chiefs” who have commented on Agnipath have decried this scheme without exception, as well as scores of veteran three-stars?

Surely, they are not saying so because they were not elevated to CDS. The simple reason is that Agnipath undeniably adversely impacts combat capability especially at the cutting edge, and in turn national security – that too when India faces a major military challenge from China on the borders.

Does it matter that Agniveers are “below” soldiers and don’t get the same dues and compensation for KIA as regular soldiers?

The System for Pension Administration-RAKSHA (SPARSH) was introduced to save money but has ended up with much larger expenditure than before; thanks to the expansion of the PCDA and establishing SPARSH centres pan-India.

According to the President IESL, when the proposal to announce the One Rank One Pension (OROP), and the tables were put up to the Secretary Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) on June 3, 2024, the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts PCDA Pension stymied the announcement by proposing eight-year for the same pension scales. Government’s policy has been “if you can’t fight them (the bureaucrats) join them.

Continuation of Agnipath is political compulsion because of the constipated egos and inability to accept a folly even if it impacts national security, which some say is the Doval Plan to bring the Armed Forces the below police forces, while others call it “Modi’s Blind Spot”.

The “yes men” anyway are dime a dozen and where is the China threat when we are giving Beijing $100 billion annually through bilateral trade and have allowed China to become our biggest trading partner, with the corporate clamouring for Chinese nationals to be granted visas pronto.

Hasn’t External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met China’s Wang Yi at Astana, Kazakhstan and told the Silver Fox to mend his ways? Xi Jinping anyway is a midget compared to US-supported Modi and Rajnath’s proclamation that POK will automatically fall into our hands is giving jitters to Xi that his $62 billion investment in the CPEC is sunk.

The problem with our imbeciles is their inability to understand the power of trade and economy over national security,

What then is the future? The SPARSH will continue with politicians compensating the follies by putting a barfi in the soldiers’ mouths on Diwali and New Year – forget the Veer Naris and veterans who are not getting their dues. Agnipath will undergo some tinkering but won’t be scrapped because when “saiyan bhaye kotwal toh darr kahe ka?”

As a former Vice Chief of Army Staff aptly says, “We have a serious handicap, the import ex China has grown since Galwan in 2020. Our Leaders are looking at just the next elections and no one is willing to recommend guns over butter.

“We in uniform may crib about it but I don't see light at the end of the tunnel. We may barter some more land to look good and continue freebies to the teeming masses.” Meanwhile, the United States is probably waiting for Rajnath’s prediction that China and Russia will automatically fall in the lap of America.

Lt General Prakash Katoch is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed here are the writer’s own.