The Changing Logic of 'Tour of Duty'
The army has been downsized by 120,000 with no recruitments for two years
After the media briefing on Tour of Duty on June 14, the logic behind the scheme is being constantly changed. There appears to be a deliberate plan of disinformation to confuse everyone to push through the 'Agnipath' scheme, hitting at the combat capability of the Armed Forces at the cutting edge, particularly the Army, when the focus should be on modernization.
Take the media headline of June 21, '"Regimental System Will Remain Untouched Under Agnipath": NSA Ajit Doval'. As per this report, Doval told ANI, "The concept of regiments, nobody is tinkering with it. If there are regiments, then there will be regiments of artillery, electrical or mechanical engineers or mechanical engineers. They (regiments) will continue… The regimental system has not ended. There is confusion among some sections of people about some units of infantry. There are only a few caste-based regiments left, only two or three and this is a colonial legacy. Britishers wanted that nothing should be pan-India. They wanted to divide the people…"
Doval obviously can't differentiate between the Corps of Artillery/ Engineers/ EME from an Infantry Regiment like the Parachute Regiment, which is not surprising since the Defence Secretary doesn't know the difference between the Engineers and the MES. During the media briefing on June 14, Army Chief General Manoj Pandey confirmed the Army's Regimental System would go, though not immediately. His predecessor, General M.M Naravane had emphasized to CDS General Bipin Rawat that the Army's Regimental System must remain untouched. That is why the government waited for Naravane to retire and install General Pandey, a Sapper, as Army Chief. It was perhaps also one reason Naravane was not promoted to CDS, though the vacancy existed.
The other Sapper, Lt Gen Anil Puri in the Department of Military Affairs, first said Agnipath would improve the military's combat capability but now says that the Tour of Duty is to imbibe 'Desh Bhakti' in the youth. Is this the task of the military? What is the NCC meant for and why is it not compulsory in all educational institutions? How about Anil Puri imbibing some 'Bhakti' in himself towards the Constitution? Why doesn't he wear a dhoti, maybe a hat also like his mentor, and go open an ashram to teach 'Desh Bhakti'. He could lead a bhajan mandli in the ashram as well.
Doval's roundabout narrative is an attempt to obfuscate the continued government intent to change the class composition of Infantry regiments – which certainly are not few as Doval mentioned – like, Punjab, Rajputana Rifles, Rajput, Dogra, Sikh, Jat, Parachute, Grenadiers, Sikh Light Infantry, Maratha Light Infantry, Garhwal, Kumaon, Assam, Bihar, Mahar, Jammu & Kashmir Rifles, Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry, various Gorkha Regimens, Ladakh Scouts, Arunachal Scouts and Sikkim Scouts – to an all India class adversely affecting the élan, cohesiveness and combat capability of these regiments. Same goes for all Regiments of the Armoured Corps, of which Doval did not make any mention at all.
These regiments may be of the British era, but have nothing to do with the British. Just because of some harebrained ideas, a false sense of 'Indianization' and to satisfy egos, does the government want the Sikh Regiment to have personnel from the South or the Northeast, this being one example? Do we understand the advantage of regional troops? Shouldn't NSA Doval, being the right hand of Prime Minister Modi, understand all this or is he driving another agenda?
It is pathetic that Doval's priority is to kill the Army's Regimental System and to turn the Army into a quasi-conscript force rather than evolving a National Security Strategy (with which he was tasked four years back), from which should follow the military strategy, and all restructuring and defence procurements. It is also unthinkable that with eight years as PM, Modi doesn't know what is happening – so what is driving him to do all this?
After what Doval said, the Army Chief is mum on demonetization of the Regimental System of the Infantry and Armoured Corps, though not only these Regiments but posterity will brand him a 'coward'. The joke in circulation is that Salman Khan in 'Dabang' as 'Chulbul Pandey' exuded much more confidence than what Mohan Pandey is showing. Army Vice Chief Lt Gen B.S Raju, being from the Jat Regiment, realizes the terrible damage being done but with Pandey bending backwards can do little.
Speaking to the Indian Express recently, Vice Chief Lt Gen Raju said the Agnipath scheme being rolled out now is a "pilot project" and it may be tweaked after 4-5 years. Raju must be joking calling it a pilot project – with thousands inducted in one go? The tweaking part of course is mere consolation. Raju also said that the Agnipath Scheme is "well thought out".
In addition to killing the Regimental System of the Army, hopefully the plan does not include targeting specialized regiments like The Parachute Regiment, which is not a fixed class regiment but in which the manpower needs time to acquire skills. An exception must be made to the overall dictum for the Army to send out 75% Tour of Duty inductees after 4 years and retain 25% for The Parachute Regiment, allowing them to retain 80%, even if overall the Army sends 75% out after four years.
It is already in public domain that the concept paper for ToD was worked out in-house by Army Headquarters in December 2019, which recommended a pilot project of 100 officers and 1,000 soldiers. But the Ministry of Defence converted it into a full-blown induction. Now the Army's Adjutant General Ponappa says the duration of training period for ToD is being increased from 24 to 31 weeks. But on what grounds have we agreed to reduce the period of recruit training followed in the Army for the past 75 years?
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his protégé Anil Puri say that money saving is not the reason behind Agnipath. Then why is this scheme being introduced in the first place? What does the Army, which is most affected, get in return for the 4-year tenure of the ToD inductee, spending some Rs 40 lakh on the individual who has entered primarily on being physically fit? Can Rajnath say that the Army today is not fit?
Doval has told the media that the Agnipath scheme "has been debated and discussed over decades." When and where did this decades old discussion begin? Why not be brave enough to admit it has been under discussion in the RSS the past two decades? Anil Puri says 'Agnipath' is a long pending reform which was even recommended by the Kargil Review Committee (KRC). He has obviously not read the report; is he talking off the cuff to curry 'more' favour with his peers?
The KRC report made no such recommendation. In terms of defence budget allocations, the KRC report recommends it should be left to the government. However, while discussing defence expenditure, the report says it is desirable to analyze defence expenditure variously in terms of constant prices, as a percentage of GDP, as a proportion of Central Government Expenditure (CGE) and our purchasing power.
Forget CGE, the government is only targeting the defence-pension bill, leaving out civilian-defence employees and other defence related establishments. Because of this being exposed, Rajnath and Anil Puri now sheepishly say it is not about money.
Unknown to the public are the facts that the Army has 'already' been downsized by more than 1,20,000 with 60,000 persons retiring annually and recruitment stopped over the past two years; the fighting arms at the cutting edge are thin in manpower despite the continuing standoff with China. Moreover, Agnipath kills the state-wise quota of recruitment in the Army implemented in 1966, to promote the agenda of the party in power.
Incidentally, a group of veterans in Haryana, when asked to attend an RSS camp, responded they certainly would provided they are told anything the camp would teach, which the Army does not. There was no answer. But isn't it a shame that the government is killing the Regimental Systems of the Infantry and Armoured Corps to promote their agenda under the guise of all-India recruitment when the state-wise quota for recruitment was already implemented in 1966?
A recent tweet reads: "2 min silence for those who thought Hindutva & Nationalism was propaganda by BJP to win the elections – seems like they have a well planned strategy that is being executed in phases".
So, if Hindutva is behind Agnipath and the government wants to sacrifice the Army's Regimental System to promote Hindutva and the stupid 4-year tenure of ToD-tourists adversely affecting the Armed Forces and the Nation (https://youtu.be/PLMg_sVAgso), why don't Rajnath and Doval muster the guts to stand up and say so? As they say in the Army, "Where's the Josh, Boys?"
Why circulate messages saying 'Garv Se Bolo Hum Hindu Hain' when no Hindu is ashamed of saying so? Why this pusillanimity, similar to not renaming India as Hindustan or Bharat, hiding behind Ambedkar, but scared it would annoy the Gulf? Sher Bano Sher.
Lt Gen Prakash Katoch is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal