West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday slammed the BJP-led central government over the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, alleging that the BJP was trying to create its own “armed” cadre base through the new defence recruitment programme.
She also described the scheme as a “lollipop” to create thugs who would loot votes for the BJP.
“The BJP is trying to create its own armed cadre base through this scheme. What will they do after four years? This is not a training imparted by the army, but weapons training. They will get an arms license. The party wants to give arms into the hands of the youth,” Mamata Banerjee said in the Assembly.
Ms Banerjee’s comments came amid violent protests that have rocked various parts of the country over the ‘Agnipath’ scheme to recruit soldiers in the Army, Navy, and the Air Force on a contract for four years without pension benefits.
Terming the scheme as an insult to the armed forces, Ms Banerjee also wondered whether the BJP plans to hire ‘Agniveer’ soldiers as “watchmen” at its party offices, after their four-year service period.
“Agnipath is basically the BJP’s cadre creation scheme. The job notification by the Home Ministry has nothing to do with the army. The BJP is giving (them) a lollipop for four years to create gangsters. They are trying to create goons who will loot votes for the saffron camp,” Mamata Banerjee said.
However, if the Centre gives them permanent jobs, the TMC would thank the BJP for generating employment, she said.
Ms Banerjee also claimed that the BJP is trying to fool the masses ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls by announcing such schemes.
“They had promised two crore jobs every year. But now they are only fooling the people of the country in the name of these schemes,” she added.
In an apparent reference to senior BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya’s comment that he will give priority to ‘Agniveers’ for security jobs at his party office, chief minister said whether “the BJP is planning to hire Agniveers as watchmen at its party offices”.
Mr Vijayvargiya drew flak from the opposition and his own party MP Varun Gandhi for the remark which, the BJP leader later claimed, was twisted by people associated with a “toolkit”.
BJP MLAs staged a walkout from the assembly protesting against Mamata Banerjee’s remarks.
Addressing a press conference later, Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari asserted that the chief minister’s comments were tantamount to insulting the armed forces.
“Such comments by a chief minister are an insult to the armed forces. The chief minister must apologise for her remarks. We would request the President of India to take note of the comments,” he said.
The government unveiled the scheme on June 14 and, after the protests broke out, it announced several incentives and concessions for Agniveers.
The three services of the military on Sunday came out with a broad schedule of enrolment under the new policy and warned that those who indulged in violence and arson will not be inducted.
There was a comparative lull on Monday after the stormy protests which rocked several states during the past four days, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Telangana, while peaceful agitations were held in several places.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)