Gwalior-Chambal Young Voters Slam Agnipath Scheme Before Election
The BJP has fielded Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar from the crucial Dimani seat, in the Morena district.
Bhopal: A palpable resentment is simmering among the young voters of Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior-Chambal region against the Centre’s flagship Agnipath Yojana before the November 17 Assembly election.
Violent protests erupted in the region, which produces the highest numbers of recruits in defence forces from Madhya Pradesh, including 16,000 serving personnel, when the scheme was introduced in June last year.
In Gwalior, aspirants went on a rampage setting 20 vehicles on fire, vandalising two trains, blocking rail traffic and damaging tracks.
The scheme provides four years of employment in the armed forces to youth in the 17.5-21 age group. After this period, only 25% of the total personnel would be absorbed permanently.
The scheme is a major blow to youth seeking permanent employment in the armed forces with job aspirants seeking vacancies in banks, the police and other state government departments.
“The Army conducted recruitment exams in the region twice a year, which was the biggest source of employment,” Yogendra Gujjar, a physical trainer of armed forces aspirants since 2013, told NewsClick. “Other job openings are seasonal are marred with corruption.”
The number of students preparing for physical training in Morena has dropped to half, showing the decline in preference for the scheme. “Aspirants find it unsettling with the sword of uncertainty dangling over their heads even after giving four years to the armed forces,” he said.
Sensing the anger of young voters over the scheme in the region, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi, during her rally in Gwalior on July 21 said, “I recently met youngsters in Haryana who told me that many youths return home in the middle of the rigorous training under the Agnipath scheme.”
She added, “They asked me what’s the use of undergoing such rigorous training when they’ll have a job just for four years before returning home to rely on agriculture, which isn’t profitable either considering the high inflation. Even candidates whose families spent Rs 10,000-Rs 20,000 on private coaching for cracking the test feel cheated with the scheme.”
Several youths told NewsClick that the lack of better education institutes and rampant unemployment in the region forces them to secure a job at an early age.
“Many Agniveers quit during the training due to an uncertain future,” an angry Vikram Tomar (21), an aspirant from Morena, said.
After the scheme was introduced, armed forces aspirants preparing for years became overage or ineligible with the maximum age limit capped at 21.
“There is huge resentment against the scheme. Youth protesting the scheme were booked under stringent laws, jeopardising their chances of getting other government jobs,” lamented Manish Rathore (19), angry with the treatment of Agniveer Amritpal Singh after his “suicide”.
The young voters said that “voting is the only way to show our anger over the scheme”.
OLD PENSION SCHEME
The BJP government’s refusal to revive the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) has stoked anger as the region has many serving and retired government officers.
On the other hand, the Congress has promised to reintroduce the OPS in its manifesto. The OPS was discontinued during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government in 2003 and replaced with the New Pension Scheme (NPS) in 2004.
According to Madhya Pradesh Assembly data, the state has more than 6.60 lakh government employees, of which 4.40 lakh are under the NPS.
“The region has a large number of Central and state government employees who favour reviving the OPS, a support in old age and to their families,” said Rajveer Agnihotri, a government teacher from Morena city.
Many state government employee associations have welcomed the Congress promise of reviving the OPS.
REPEATING 2018 RESULTS CHALLENGE FOR CONGRESS
Like the previous elections, the Gwalior-Chambal region would again play a deciding factor.
The Congress aims to win more seats in the Gwalior-Chambal region than its tally in 2018.
In 2018, the Congress won 26 of 34 seats in the region, ending the BJP’s 15-year-old rule. The BJP won seven seats and the BSP one. But after Jyotiraditya Scindia’s coup in March 2020 with 22 MLAs, the BJP increased its tally to 16 seats in the by-polls.
The 2018 Congress victory in the region was attributed to the April 2 Bharat Bandh caste violence, anti-incumbency, farm loan waiver and the possibility of Scindia becoming chief minister (CM). But the Congress will find it tough to repeat its 2018 performance in the changed situation.
The party faces several challenges: from reconstructing the party unit on those seats where its leaders defected to the BJP and to finding a winnable candidate and pacifying rebel candidates.
Rebel Congress leaders contesting on BSP’s tickets on seats are also giving nightmares to the Congress. Yet the party aims to win more seats than in 2018.
“It’s not the Congress party but the voters who will contest the election. The region voted against the BJP not only in 2018 but also in the 2020 by-polls and urban body election. For the first time, the Congress won the Gwalior and Morena mayoral seat after Scindia’s departure,” AICC Secretary and in-charge of the Gwalior Chambal region Shiv Bhatiya told NewsClick.
The BJP, eyeing 15-20 seats from the region, is trying to overcome anti-incumbency with the support of heavyweights. Besides underdevelopment, Scindia’s ‘betrayal’ and ‘selling of MLAs’ is still a talking point.
As the feud between Scindia’s MLAs and older BJP leaders continues even after three years, Union home minister Amit Shah, in his third visit to Gwalior in the last two months, held a review meeting with party leaders on Monday.
“He [Shah] urged senior party leaders to end their internal feud and work closely to retain the state,” a senior party leader said.
The region’s Dimani and Datia seats have caused a buzz in the media. The BJP has fielded Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar from Dimani and home minister Narottam Mishra from Datia. The BJP doesn’t want to lose these seats as they can be the deciding factor.
Tomar will contest against Congress’s incumbent MLA Ravindra Singh Tomar, who won the 2020 by-polls with a margin of more than 18,477 votes. The BJP hopes that Tomar will be able to bridge the fault lines that damaged its prospects in the region.
MLA Balveer Singh Dandotiya, contesting on a BSP ticket, may play a crucial role in Dimani as the seat has around 30,000 Brahmin voters. Although it’s a caste-ridden seat, the issue of farmers, Agnipath and development will make it tough for BJP’s Tomar, whose name for the CM’s post is gaining ground in the region.
On the other hand, Mishra’s bastion Datia, which he won with a close margin of 2,656 votes in 2018, is going to witness a very interesting contest, according to political experts.
The Congress gave the ticket to Awadesh Nayak, an RSS leader who joined the party in June, in the first list but replaced him with Rajendra Bharti after stiff opposition.
According to political experts, the public sentiment is with Bharti as he faced 13 FIRs in the last three years, his two brothers died fighting injustice and his lands were declared public property.
“Unknowingly, the Congress has done a huge favour to Bharti,” Gwalior-based political expert Devshree Mali told NewsClick. “When the Congress announced Nayak’s name, who does not hold much clout in the region, Bharti’s supporters began mobilising support and got public backing.”
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