Saturday, December 9, 2023

National consensus in country’s defence policy – Defence News

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By Maj Gen (Dr) Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)

The democratic countries in the world have their own challenges wherein policies of one government are changed by those who are in ‘opposition’ but come to power after defeating the ruling dispensation. While policy continuation may be a requirement in all fields, it is critical for the foreign and defence policies as these have long term implications for a nation’s future.   

As against earlier times, the rate of change has far exceeded the expectation of the current generation. India’s emergence on the global stage on various counts is cause of happiness on one hand but a cause of concern on the other hand if foreign policies and defence policies are not continued with the similar thought and momentum. The challenges become more predominant if the ruling dispensation does not have a common and consensus approach on the important issues reasons notwithstanding.

While India has been following the institutional approach wherein the general direction of foreign and defence policies were consistent and the changes adopted were the reflection of emerging national interests. Apparently some Fault lines have started emerging of late. While such fault lines   can be commented on by the experts on foreign policy as far as foreign policy is concerned, one of the important aspects of the defence policy will be analyzed to carry home this point. And this policy is the launch of the AGNIPATH scheme which has totally revamped the recruitment norms in all the three services.

The AGNIPATH scheme was announced by the Government on 14 June 22 to be implemented wef Sep 22. The scheme envisaged reduced training duration due to initial contract being only for four years wherein these recruits were called the AGNIVEERS. After four years, top 25% performers are to be retained as soldiers on terms and conditions as was prevalent prior to adoption of AGNIPATH scheme.

As it happens, there were adulations as well as the brickbats for the scheme depending on various stakeholders as they saw it. There was some disturbing opposition as well in the form of processions, demonstrations, rallies and destruction of the Government properties. It emerged later that probably this opposition was steered by some coaching centers who were likely to be affected adversely from the adoption of this scheme.

The scheme definitely has some distinct advantages to include the lowering of age profile of the units which is critical for conduct of the successful operations given the terrain we face with China and J&K segment with Pakistan. It was also  established during the 1999 Kargil War. In addition to lowering the age profile, it also supported the units in getting more competent soldiers as the retention was limited to only top 25 percent performers. Such a situation was favourable for better junior leadership as well as in handling the modern and technologically advanced equipment. Once it was adopted on an All India basis, it became more representative of the country where only merit became the most important factor for successful recruitment. The current standards of these recruits are much better than the previous ones due to numerous factors some of which have been highlighted.

As the time went by, the Government also issued some amendments to include relaxation in age for initial recruiting which could not take place for close to two years due to covid disruption besides offering certain additional vacancies for vetted out AGNIVEERS in CAPF and other organizations. The exit terms and conditions were also given out which included enhancement of the education qualifications, giving new skill sets and reasonably good financial packages. But despite all this, concern remained regarding settlement of those AGNIVEERS who are not retained after tenanting four years of service in the defence forces which calls for the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty.

And now comes the real issue related to consistency in the defence policy. As the parliamentary election of 2024 approaches, the majority of the opposition parties have announced to do away with the AGNIPATH policy and restore the old policy of recruitment. Being apolitical, one can’t comment on whether the current government continues or there is a change in the government through the democratic process but this risk will always remain for times to come, now or later.

So what are the options? Should Government of the day take opposition parties ‘on board’ for such decisions? Given the historical fact as to how the party in power is supported by those in opposition or vice versa, it may still not fructify even if it is attempted. So what is the best way forward in a democratic country? It  is to make such major changes through the legislative process of putting through such major proposals through Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha proceedings. Once taken through the legislative process, it accords higher credibility as against executive orders as legislative process is supreme in a democratic set up.

Though this suggestion may involve the criticism as to which all decisions have to be taken through the legislative  process and what happens to the concept of devolution of decision making? Given the far reaching implications of this changed policy of the recruitment at a time when China has transgressed at multiple points across the LAC in the Eastern Ladakh and geo-political situation is fast changing the world over be it in Russia- Ukraine context or Israel- Hamas context, it may still be a fit case to process this scheme through the legislative mechanism which provides open opportunity to all members of the Parliament to  discuss the proposal threadbare and in the process, bring in a more acceptable policy ensuring its continuation for times to come.

Author is a Kargil war veteran and Senior Fellow of CLAWS, an Army Think Tank.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited. 

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