Agnipath scheme and protests

Agnipath scheme and protests

The News:

  • Agnipath Scheme is a recruitment process announced by the Indian government in which youths between the ages of 17-and-a-half and 21 years would get an opportunity to work with the Indian armed forces.

  • It will be a four-year commitment at the end of which 25 per cent of the recruits will be retained for regular service. The recruits will be called 'Agniveers'.

  • The primary concern among the youth is that the scheme would make the rest 75 per cent of the recruits that would be demobilized, ineligible for pensions, and with an uncertain future, as they would be limited to work for four years. It is also being criticized for failing to provide permanent jobs or healthcare benefits after they retire.

  • Opposition parties have also criticized it for compromising the efficiency of the armed forces. They also claim that it is a move away from the promise of 'One Rank, One Pension' to ‘No Rank, No Pension'.

  • There had been eruption of violent protests around the country since the announcement of the scheme, demanding a roll back.

  • Sociology of Protests:

  • A first mechanism linking protest and public opinion is that of identification or appeal. Thus, Wouters (2019) argues that protestor groups aim to gather public support by making available alternative group categorizations or identity with which the general public might identify. Thus, protestors in this scheme aim to gather public favor by projecting it as a movement to protect unemployed youth of the country.

  • The second mechanism involves increasing public exposure to the protest issue. This is aimed at bringing changes in public opinion, which often leads to shifts in mass opinion toward the positions of protestors. T.Lee (2002) calls it an ‘activated mass opinion’, whereby small groups can impel wider publics to act on new items on the issue agenda (by e.g. writing letters, signing petitions, or engaging with popular referendums).

  • Gamson and Wolfsfeld believe that protest and social movements are acutely mediatized phenomena or heavily influenced by media.

  • However, Andrews and Caren believe that there is bias to media coverage for various protests. Certain protests – those that are backed up with stronger organizational infrastructures and use disruptive tactics– are more likely to make the news. They also believe that often protests and the issues they advance, resonate with the values of news organizations.

  • Once an item reaches the public agenda, research finds that legislators tend to take their cues from both citizens and the media.

  • Thus, protest, per these accounts, is a signal of information, or ‘informative cue’. That is, in a limited information environment, protest provides legislators with a source of information about the issue priorities of citizens.

  • D Q Gillion believes that 'encoded' in this information is electoral threat: unless legislators satisfy the demands of key publics, they face missing out on re-election.

  • However, K C Miler writes that Constituent concerns that get the most exposure and are highlighted in front of the legislature are those advanced by the active and resource- rich; i.e. precisely those who are likely to participate in social movement organizations. Thus, legislators tend to respond to more partisan constituents, whose voices are amplified by the media.

  • The protest movement also involves the question of cost for the government. Protest imposes costs on governments by signaling instability, diverting media attention from new policy directions and achievements, or inflicting economic costs through disruption. King and Soule write that cost is also central to sociological explanations of movement impact and success. Thus, the present government has to take into account the cost of disruption of services as well as damage to public transport like burning of trains, while taking a stand on the Agnipath protest.