Several opposition leaders and a BJP ally alleged Tuesday that the army was using caste as a factor for recruitment under the Agnipath scheme, a charge swiftly rejected by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh as a ”rumour”.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav and AAP’s Sanjay Singh launched a sharp attack on the government while JD(U) leader Upendra Kushwaha and BJP MP Varun Gandhi also tweeted a purported document linked to the recruitment exercise to question the need for a caste certificate and raised concerns.
The ruling BJP accused the critics of ”belittling and insulting” the army and alleged that they were trying to instigate youngsters for street protests. ”I want to make it clear that this is a rumour. The (recruitment) system which was in place before Independence is being continued and there is no change to this,” Singh told reporters in Parliament complex. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra asserted that the army’s recruitment process dates back to pre-Independence. This was formalised by a ”Special Army Order” after 1947, and the practice remains the same, he said.
The army had submitted an affidavit in response to a PIL in the Supreme Court in 2013 when the Congress-led UPA government was in power, that caste or religion has no role in its recruitment, and applicants are asked about this for administrative reasons, Patra told reporters.
Earlier, the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader alleged that the ”extremely casteist government of the Sangh (RSS) at the Centre” will now look at Agnipath recruits’ caste and religion while discharging 75 per cent of them.
The short-term recruitment scheme envisages that 75 per cent of the recruits will be discharged after four years and the remaining 25 per cent will be absorbed for the long term. ”When there is no reservation in the army, then what is the need for a caste certificate,” the former Bihar deputy chief minister asked, tagging the purported army document which sought caste and religious certificates among other documents from applicants.
”The BJP government of the RSS runs away from caste census but asks agniveers who will lay down their lives for the country about their caste,” he said.
AAP’s Sanjay Singh in a tweet said for the first time in India’s history, candidates have been asked to mention their caste in the army recruitment and asked if Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not consider Dalits, backwards and tribals eligible for serving in the armed forces.
”The cheap face of the Modi government has come out in front of the country… Modi ji, you have to make ‘Agniveer’ or ‘Jaativeer’,” he alleged in a tweet in Hindi.
Kushwaha, whose party is a BJP ally, also raised the issue and questioned the need for a caste certificate in army recruitment when there is no provision for reservation in it.
Echoing this, Gandhi wondered if somebody’s patriotism will now be decided by looking at his caste. ”The government should consider the impact on our national security by changing the established norms of the army,” he said.
In a sharp counter-attack, Patra accused the opposition members, including those from the Congress, of ”belittling and insulting” the army while doing their politics.
If a soldier makes the supreme sacrifice while on duty, information about his religion helps the army in preparing for his last rites, he said.
Patra said opposition members create controversies around the army from time to time and added that AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had previously also raised questions on surgical and air strikes aimed at Pakistan-based terrorists.
”The Indian Army never recruits on the basis of caste or religion of applicants. It is above this. Are these people not aware of this,” he asked.
Singh made a request to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu for allowing him to raise the issue of policy changes for the Agnipath scheme. His submission made no direct mention of the issue of caste or religion.
Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha had submitted an adjournment notice to discuss what he termed the ”disastrous implications” of the Agnipath scheme as well as ”the denial of opportunities” in railways to thousands of job aspirants.
A short-term recruitment scheme in the armed forces, Agnipath was launched by the government last month.