Congress's Manish Tewari Refuses to Sign Opposition MPs' Letter Against Agnipath Scheme

Other Congress leaders in the Consultative Committee on Defence have signed the letter, and the party has said that Tewari is expressing his personal views.

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New Delhi: Congress leader Manish Tewari, part of the Consultative Committee on Defence, did not sign a statement by six opposition MPs on Monday seeking withdrawal of the Agnipath scheme.

The handwritten note by six opposition MPs – Shaktisinh Gohil and Rajani Patil (Congress), Supriya Sule (NCP), Saugata Roy and Sudip Bandyopadhyay (TMC) and A.D. Singh (RJD) – was presented to defence minister Rajnath Singh after he made a presentation before the members of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Defence.

The government had given a presentation to the members of the panel, which was chaired by Rajnath, and the three service chiefs attended it along with the defence secretary.

Sources said Tewari, who has publicly lauded the Agnipath scheme and termed it a much-needed reform in the armed forces, has taken a stand contrary to that taken by his party. The Congress has termed Tewari’s remarks as his personal views that do not reflect the party’s stand.

While the recommendations of the committee are neither binding nor confidential, the meeting was an opportunity to send a message to the government that the opposition was united on the Agnipath scheme. But that was lost with Tewari pulling out. Of the 12 MPs present, seven were from the opposition. Congress leader Gohil demanded the scheme be withdrawn and pointed out that neither the defence minister nor his service chiefs were in favour of the scheme which was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter hurriedly and was not thought through.

Also read: Agnipath: A Frankenstein Monster of Demographic Anxieties and Neoliberal Solutions

Other opposition MPs expressed apprehensions about the four-year tenure and the future of personnel who have to leave the forces after that. They said there was no assurance that these personnel would not compromise the security of the country. They pointed out that an army with long-serving personnel is more effective and better trained.

While the Congress has opposed the Agnipath recruitment scheme in the armed forces, Tewari has said it is the need of the hour, as many other militaries of other countries have done something similar. He did express his reservations about some aspects of the scheme though, especially the four-year duration, the pension bill and battle readiness of the forces.

Sources said Tewari asked at the meeting whether the scheme in any manner impacts the pension bill.

He also asked if it reduces the operational readiness of the armed forces at the cutting-edge level, sources said, adding that the army chief responded to this by saying the operational readiness will not be compromised at any level.

Tewari has held the view that such a measure for “right-sizing” of the armed forces is a much-needed reform and has been accepted globally by many countries.

Sources said he also added that such a measure has been recommended by many successive Standing Committees on Defence as well as other panels including the Kargil Review Committee, and various studies have also been done on the down-sizing of the armed forces.

Sources add that Tewari asked the defence minister whether the Agnipath scheme was meant to “right-size” the armed forces, but the government reportedly did not agree that this was the aim for bringing the scheme.

Tewari has been a member of the G23 grouping of the Congress which had sought organisational overhaul and has been critical of some of the decisions of the party leadership.

He is a former Union minister and is currently a Lok Sabha member representing the Anandpur Sahib constituency in Punjab.