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BJP's reports pinpoint Agnipath as factor in LS setbacks across states, cadres want review of scheme

Youth anger against Modi govt’s scheme continues to be cited as a major concern in states, especially Haryana, where polls are scheduled later this year, INDIANEXPOSE has learnt.

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New Delhi: Review meetings and feedback from state after state show that the controversial Agnipath scheme hit the BJP’s poll fortunes, even as the party is busy in its social media campaign to defend the introduction of short-term extendable recruitment to the armed forces.

Youth anger against Modi govt’s scheme continues to be cited as a major concern in states, especially Haryana, where polls are scheduled later this year, INDIANEXPOSE has learnt..

The Lok Sabha has seen a heated debate over the Agnipath scheme between Rahul Gandhi and Rajnath Singh, with the Defence Minister asking the Leader of the Opposition to not mislead the House by “making wrong statements” regarding the financial assistance to the next of kin of Agniveers killed in the line of duty.

On Sunday, while reviewing the Uttar Pradesh results, party organisational general secretary B.L.Santhosh was told by a party spokesperson that the scheme was to be blamed for the dismal performance in Uttar Pradesh and demanded its roll back, a BJP insider said. 

The BJP spokesperson is said to have told Santhosh that they are finding it difficult to defend the Agnipath scheme and that they are cancelling many TV debates in the absence of a proper argument to defend it to viewers. 

The meeting was convened to analyse the factors for the party’s defeat in 29 parliamentary constituencies in Uttar Pradesh as well as to brief them to popularise the work of PM Narendra Modi and CM Yogi Adityanath in the media.  

And it is not just Uttar Pradesh. The BJP leaders in Rajasthan also complained about the scheme and blamed it for defeat in four seats; it figured in the review report sent to the high command as well. 

In Rajasthan, while the BJP lost overall 10 Lok Sabha seats, the setback in Jhunjhunu, Sikar, Churu and Nagaur were attributed to the discontent against this scheme. These four constituencies contribute a lion’s share of army recruits from the state.

Former BJP MP Sumedhanand Saraswati, who lost the election in Sikar, urged the BJP leadership to review the scheme.  

“There was one Sainik academy in Punjab’s Mohali. I had brought another academy to Sikar. But many coaching centres in Sikar and Jhunjhunu were closed as youths who were passionate to join army became disillusioned while recruitments became less attractive. Their numbers started to fall,” Sumedhanand told INDIANEXPOSE.

“The opposition campaigned to showcase the shortcomings of this scheme; this found a resonance among the youths and they voted against us. The government needs to review this scheme as the bypolls will be held very soon. We will face the same issue again (if it is not addressed).”

In June, the BJP held a review meeting and the Agnipath scheme was cited as one of the reasons, besides infighting, the Dalit and Jat backlash, and a lack of synergy between government and party as well as that of a cohesive leadership.

The same month BJP’s Shubhkaran Choudhary, who lost to his Congress rival  in Jhunjhunu, had told the media at that time that the results would have been otherwise had the government announced to review the scheme “even 1 day before the polling.”

While the party lost 39 seats in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, Haryana also gave reduced mandate to the BJP as seen in the loss of 5 seats. 

The results were the heaviest in Haryana since 2014 when it lost 3 seats. From sweeping every assembly segment in all Lok Sabha seats in 2019, it only managed to win those in Karnal where Manohar Lal Khattar was the candidate.

Though it was largely attributed to the farm agitation and the youth anger due to joblessness, the anger surrounding the short-term recruitment of Agniveers also was cited for the reduced tally.

“South Haryana has been an Army recruitment hub and there is a craze among Ahirwars to enrol in the Army. Rewari,Mahendragarh, Rohtak, Bhiwani, Sonipat are major cities where coaching institutes prepare youths for the Army,” a BJP Haryana senior leader and former MP told INDIANEXPOSE.   

“More than 50,000 youths prepare for such recruitments in the Ahir belt alone. The Congress’s aggressive campaign demanding the roll back of the scheme has harmed the BJP. None of our leaders countered and promised to review it. We have asked our leaders to review the scheme so that we get favourable results (in the state) in the face of the farmers’ agitation and the burning issue of Agniveers.” 

Similarly, Haryana Rajya Sabha MP Ram Chander Jangra told INDIANEXPOSE that the scheme was brought to prepare young youths for army and instil patriotism, while giving short-term employment but “going by the protests against it, the government should consider its review.” 

If the Congress replicates its show — the opposition party had a lead in 46 assembly segments during the LS elections —  in the Haryana polls, the BJP will be in trouble if the party fails to address the concerns of the youths among other concern areas, the party functionaries INDIANEXPOSE spoke to said.

In Bihar where students protested and stalled train movements when Agnipath was announced in 2022, the NDA allies — the JD(U) and the LJP — had earlier urged the Modi government to review the scheme.

“We want a review of the Agnipath scheme as there were widespread protests. It has affected poll prospects of the NDA. The shortcoming should be addressed. Similarly, Chirag Paswan, too, demanded a review. Even in Punjab, where the BJP won two seats in 2019, the party drew a blank. Punjab is another state where Agniveer recruitment became an issue. 24 percent of Army recruits come from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The BJP managed to protect its turf in Himachal and Uttarakhand,” senior JD(U) K.C. Tyagi told INDIANEXPOSE earlier this month or last month

 A central BJP leader conceded to INDIANEXPOSE that the opposition tactfully channelled the anger of the youths with other issues to create a negative narrative against the ruling coalition. 

“Paper leaks and Agnipath aggravated the anger of youths against the government. The opposition used unemployment and livelihood issues in its campaign narrative; we focused on cultural issues like Ram temple and long-term vision of a ‘Viksit Bharat' (Developed India by 2047) to counter  anti-incumbency,” the senior leader said.

The party, the functionary said, lost in those states where the INDIA bloc played it smartly.

“When we lost Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka (in 2023), we launched a campaign to counter the freebies of the Congress. Nationalism is our forte. We implemented the OROP but due to this (Agnipath) scheme, we are losing our core vote-bank,” the central BJP leader said.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Modi’s pep talk to NDA MPs day after Rahul speech — avoid contact with media, behave in Parliament 

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