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Will Rajnath Fix Agnipath Scheme?

By Bhaswar Kumar
June 11, 2024 11:06 IST
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Will Modi 3.0 also see theaterisation of India's armed forces?

IMAGE: Rajnath Singh takes the oath of office as Cabinet minister, June 9, 2024. All photographs: ANI Photo

Prime Minister Narendra D Modi retained senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Rajnath Singh as defence minister on Monday, with challenges such as addressing concerns over the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces and continuing the long-pending theatre commands reform process awaiting him in his second stint at the ministry of defence (MoD).

Seventy-two-year-old Rajnath, whose political career spans over five decades, took oath as a member of Modi's Cabinet on Sunday.

In the Lok Sabha polls, Rajnath retained the Lucknow constituency.

Under the previous Modi government, Rajnath assumed the office of defence minister in June 2019. Prior to that, Rajnath had been home minister since May 2014.

Agniveers

IMAGE: Agniveer Vayu trainees march past during their passing out parade at the Indian Air Force's Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai, June 8, 2024.

During Rajnath's first stint as defence minister, the Modi-led government rolled out the Agnipath scheme in June 2022 for short-term induction of personnel to the armed forces.

Under it, both male and female aspirants between ages 17.5 and 21 are recruited into the cadre below the officer's rank for four years, with a provision to retain 25 per cent of them for 15 more years. Those recruited under the scheme are called Agniveers.

The scheme's announcement triggered violent protests in several parts of the country, with sections of the youth opposing it.

Shortly after the election verdict, which saw the BJP falling short of the majority, the party's alliance partners raised concerns about the Agnipath scheme, which the Opposition had criticised and promised to scrap during the poll campaign.

Addressing the concerns surrounding the scheme will be one of Rajnath's immediate tasks.

Rajnath Singh

IMAGE: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh interacts with armed forces personnel at 4 Corps HQ in Tezpur, October 24, 2023.

Born in July 1951 in Uttar Pradesh, Rajnath served as member of the assembly from 1977 to 1980 and again from 2001 to 2003.

He was minister of education in the UP government from 1991 to 1992. Rajnath also served as minister of surface transport in the Union Cabinet from 1999 to 2000.

Subsequently, he served as chief minister of UP from 2000 to 2002. In 2003, he served as minister of agriculture in the Union Cabinet.

Rajnath Singh

IMAGE: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Chandrasekhar Pande, Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari, chief of air staff, and then chief of naval staff Admiral Radhakrishnan Hari Kumar, June 14, 2022.

During his previous stint at the MoD, there were indications that theaterisation of the armed forces was seeing forward movement.

Once rolled out, theaterisation will be the biggest military reform in the country. It will see the creation of unified theatre commands within the 1.7 million-strong Indian armed forces. These theatre commands will integrate the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy into one architecture.

The BJP had made a commitment of military theaterisation in its election manifesto.

On May 4, Rajnath said in a media interview that theaterisation was progressing, with a consensus emerging among the three services.

Maintaining the momentum gained by the theaterisation process will be another task facing Rajnath.

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