In a statement, Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin underscored the criticism by retired armed forces officers that the requirement under the scheme to serve the military only for a limited period of time would disrupt the discipline of the forces. “For the sake of national security, immediately withdraw the Agnipath scheme, which is against national welfare and capable of destroying the hopes of lakhs of aspirants,” Stalin said.
While protests have been relatively muted in Tamil Nadu, Telangana’s Secunderabad witnessed fierce opposition to the scheme after protesters set trains afire, blocked rail tracks, and destroyed equipment worth crores at the Secunderabad railway station. In a statement announcing a Rs 25-lakh solatium to the family of a protester who died allegedly in police firing, CM KC Rao squarely blamed the Centre’s policy making to the deterioration of law and order across states.
Three days after announcing the scheme, the Centre declared a relaxation in the upper age limit, raising it to 23 years. Defence minister Rajnath Singh said in a recent statement that the age revision “indicated the government’s concern for the youth”.
In BJP-ruled Karnataka, the Congress has raked up the issue to apply pressure on the state government. Anjali Nimbalkar, the Congress MLA from Khanapur, began a hunger strike in her constituency on the Karnataka-Maharashtra border, evoking strong criticism from chief minister Bommai.
The dharna shows the Congress was stoking protests against a very unique programme, the chief minister told the media in Bengaluru.
When the youth get trained in the army, it will open a world of opportunities for them later, including in paramilitary forces, Bommai said, and called the ongoing protests in parts of India as politically motivated which people would realise soon.
The Centre, he said, would address the concerns of the youth who had written their exams for getting into the armed forces.
In Khanapur, some ex-servicemen of the taluk also participated in a dharna led by Anjali Nimbalkar. Belagavi district, of which Khanapur is a part, has several of its youth serving in the armed forces. In a tweet, Nimbalkar thanked Kannada Rakshana Vedike for lending its support.
In Bengaluru, Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar said the Agnipath scheme was an insult to the youth as the government was seeking to make them into guards. He wondered if the BJP wanted children of its own lawmakers to become doctors and engineers, and children of poor families to become guards.
In Kerala, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to put the scheme on hold in the country’s interest, and address the criticism by professionals and consider the concerns of the youth.
Vijaysai Reddy, YSRCP’s parliamentary party leader, condemned the loss of public property as a consequence of the violent protests against the scheme, which he felt needed to be discussed in democratic forums like Parliament.
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