Angry mobs in India have torched a ruling party office, attacked rail infrastructure and blocked roads amid growing protests against a new military recruitment system, police officials said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Tuesday announced a recruitment overhaul for India’s 1.38 million armed forces, seeking to lower the average age of personnel and reduce pension spending.
But potential recruits, military veterans, opposition leaders and even some members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have expressed reservations about the revamped process.
In the eastern Indian state of Bihar, where protests have erupted in a dozen places, thousands gathered in Nawada district to demonstrate against the new recruitment system, a said a police official, Gaurav Mangla, on Thursday.
“They burned down a BJP office, burned tires in three important areas of the city, damaged a bus and many private vehicles,” Mangla told Reuters news agency.
Protesters also attacked railway properties across Bihar, setting up torched coaches in at least two locations, damaging railway tracks and vandalizing a station, according to officials and a statement from the railways.
Smoke billowed from burning tires at a Jehanabad junction where protesters shouted slogans and performed push-ups to highlight their fitness for service.
Police said protests also took place in northern Haryana state and western Rajasthan – two traditional recruitment areas for the Indian army – and in various districts of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.
In January this year, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh witnessed huge protests against the recruitment process for railway jobs, highlighting the continuing problem of unemployment in India.
‘Where will we go after 4 years?’
The new system, called ‘Agnipath’, which means ‘path of fire’ in Hindi, will bring in men and women aged 17½ to 21 for four-year terms, with only a quarter retained for longer periods. long.
Previously, soldiers were recruited separately by the army, navy and air force and generally enter service until the age of 17 for the lowest ranks.
The shorter tenure has raised concerns among potential recruits and security analysts.
“Where will we go after working only four years? said a young man, surrounded by other protesters in Jehanabad district, Bihar. “We will be homeless after four years of service. So we blocked the roads.
In a letter to Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday, Varun Gandhi, a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh, said 75% of those recruited under the scheme would find themselves unemployed after four years of service. .
“Every year that number will increase,” Gandhi said, according to a copy of the letter he posted on social media.
“When India faces threats on two fronts, Agnipath’s unwarranted plan reduces the operational effectiveness of our armed forces,” Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party, said in a statement. tweet.
“The BJP government must stop compromising the dignity, traditions, valor and discipline of our forces.”
In an Al Jazeera report on Thursday, analyst Sushant Singh said the army’s new recruitment plan was announced without any discussion in parliament and could have “devastating consequences”.
“More than half of the Indian government’s defense spending, or $70.6 billion, is spent on pensions and salaries for Indian military personnel. It was skyrocketing year by year and Modi’s government was unable to launch a fundamental reform within the existing structure,” Singh wrote.
“The Indian government therefore decided on Tuesday to demolish the structure itself.”
According to Singh, the military proposal will also have a direct impact on Indian society, which has seen an upsurge in hate speech and attacks against Muslims and other minorities by India’s right-wing Hindu groups since the coming to power of India. Modi in 2014.
“Research shows that the most violent ethnic cleansing occurred when members of the majority community gained combat experience as soldiers while the minority community was unorganized,” Singh wrote.
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