The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), a consortium of 40-odd farmers organisations, held a nationwide protest against what they termed as "anti-military, anti-farmer and anti-national scheme" of Agnipath, the governments four-year army recruitment scheme.
SKM also termed the Agnipath scheme as part of the "wider campaign of this government to establish company rule over agriculture", when nationwide protests were held and memoranda were submitted to DMs/DCs across India on Friday.
IANS caught up with Rakesh Tikait of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), one of the top leaders in the SKM, to know what exactly is the farmers' angst against Agnipath.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Why are the farmers agitating against an army recruitment scheme?
A: Very simple. Where do the army recruits come from? From the villages and it is the farmers and labourers who stay in the villages. The army jawans come from our families. Nobody retires in four years, that too this young. The government has not yet clarified so many aspects related to this scheme.
For instance, what kind of training these recruits would get, would it be on par with the regular military training? Or for that matter, the government has not clarified which 25 per cent would be absorbed later.
I see two problems with this 25 per cent matter. One, there is likelihood of financial and social corruption and there would be physical exploitation of these jawans. Second, the jawan who retires after four years, will he be going back to his village with a retired' label? We will face the consequences in the years to come.
Q: Then what should the government do?
A: There should be one year of compulsory military training for all who are 18 years and above. After that, the person would be free to go anywhere, be it a private job or even a journalist.
Otherwise, these four years the officers will exploit these young boys physically and mentally. There needs to be a clear plan. We have submitted memoranda at each of the districts across India on Friday as part of our agitation against Agnipath, asking for clarity on the recruitment scheme.
Q: What happens to the agitation which had turned violent earlier?
A: Agitations do not turn violent on their own, it is the government that instigates. People who believe in violence (had) joined the protests. We told our people to hold an absolutely peaceful agitation. Then we submitted the memoranda to the DCs/DMs everywhere and now we plan to have a talk with the government.
Q: Some of your team members said the government is punishing those districts/areas that had earlier witnessed widespread agitation against the now-repealed three farm laws. Why do you think it is so?
A: Maximum jawans in the army come from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. All these jawans are farmers' sons only. These people are die-hard patriots and hence very sensitive about such issues. If you make attempts to bring the jawan's moral down, how will he fight?
Q: So, where is this leading to? What do you think will happen now?
A: They (the government) have already privatised the police in Gujarat. Now they want to privatise the military too. I guess China has privatised its military.
Q: It is quite a big statement on your part to say the government is privatising the military. Why do you say so?
A: What else is this? It is an attempt to privatise. The government wants to privatise the military. They have (already) brought in privatisation in the police; many of the departments are already privatised. In Gujarat, even the traffic police is privatised.
Q: What happens to your agitation now? Just one day of memorandum submission and then over?
A: Let us see how our agitation unfolds. Right now, I am in Himachal Pradesh. There are dam projects, railways and other similar big ticket infrastructure projects. The government is acquiring land left, right and centre. But the compensation paid is barely two times, as against the four times as it ought to be. Are the farmers of Himachal Pradesh not part of India?
If the farmers here are peaceful, won't you give compensation? It means you won't give adequate compensation, prompting the farmer to agitate?