Protests against India’s plan for short-term military contracts are mounting

Protesters in India’s eastern state of Bihar on Saturday damaged public property and looted offices at a train station, expressing outrage at a new military recruitment plan and calling for the government to reverse course.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has introduced a policy called Agnipath, or “Way of Fire,” aimed at bringing more people into the military on four-year contracts in a bid to lower the average age of India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces.

A senior military general, Lt.-Gen. Anil Puri, told news channel NDTV the aim of the plan is to make the military more modern and effective.

Analysts said the new policy would also help lower burgeoning pension costs, but opponents believe it would limit opportunities for permanent Defense Forces jobs, affecting salaries, pensions and other benefits.

Police detain protesters during a demonstration against the military’s recruitment plan in Chennai on Saturday. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of young men attacked train carriages, burned tires and clashed with officials at a train station in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states.

Authorities canceled 369 trains across the country, many of which passed through troubled areas.

Sanjay Singh, a senior law enforcement official in the state, said at least 12 protesters were arrested and at least four police officers were injured in clashes.

“Approximately 2,000 to 2,500 people entered the Masaurhi train station and attacked the forces,” he told Reuters.

In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, police arrested at least 250 people in so-called preventive arrests. Some demonstrators accused the police of using excessive force. One person was killed in protests this week.

Any job change

To stem outrage, the federal government on Saturday announced concessions to those who will serve under the new rules.

The interior ministry said it would reserve 10 percent of vacancies in the paramilitary forces and Assam Rifles, a unit of the Indian Army, for those who retire after four years.

Activists from the Mumbai Pradesh Youth Congress shout slogans at a protest against the government’s new army, navy and air force recruitment program ‘Agnipath’ in Mumbai on Saturday. (Sujit Jaiswal/AFP/Getty Images)

The Department of Defense said it will reserve 10 percent of its vacancies for those who have completed their term.

“Maybe people misunderstood because it’s a new scheme, but we’ve discussed this with everyone, including ex-servicemen,” Defense Secretary Rajnath Singh told a conference on Saturday.

The policy is to keep 25 percent of recruited soldiers after four years of service, with the rest given priority for other jobs, such as with the state police.

“Staff Transformation”

The navy chief said Friday the protests were unexpected and likely the result of misinformation about the new system.

A train attendant inspects a carriage set on fire by protesters demonstrating against the government’s new military recruitment program at a train station in Secunderabad, in the Indian state of Telangana on Friday. (Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

“I didn’t expect such protests,” Admiral R. Hari Kumar told ANI. “It is the largest single transformation in human resource management that has ever taken place in the Indian military.”

The program is not open to women in combat roles and there are no current plans to change this.

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