Soon after the government launched the Agnipath scheme for recruiting soldiers in the Indian armed forces, the defence aspirants preparing for a job came to the streets in protest.

Phone internet and SMS services have been suspended for 24 hours in Haryana’s Palwal district following stone-pelting and violence by Army aspirants. Police had to resort to aerial firing after a mob attacked them and set their vehicles on fire.

Trains were set afire, rail and road traffic disrupted, window panes of buses smashed, and passersby, including a ruling BJP MLA, pelted with stones by angry youth demanding the withdrawal of the new short-term recruitment scheme. 

Violent protests have now spread to multiple states across the country. 

Due to demonstrations and vandalism at several railway stations, 22 trains from Bihar had to be cancelled and five had to stop after completing partial journeys, East Central Railway said.

At large Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have also reported violent protests.

On Thursday, protests against the Agnipath scheme for hiring jawans on a short-term contractual basis continued across Bihar for the second consecutive day, disrupting railway and road traffic in Jehanabad, Buxar and Nawada districts.

Protestors blocked the movement of trains on the Patna-Gaya and Patna-Buxar routes by lying down on the railway tracks in Jehanabad and Buxar districts. However, Bihar police and their railway counterparts immediately removed the protestors from the tracks.

Hundreds of agitators blocked National Highway 83 in Jehanabad and burned tyres demanding the scrapping of the scheme.

In Uttar Pradesh, students blocked the GT road in Bulandshahr and raised slogans demanding the withdrawal of the scheme.

Students and unemployed youth protested in Gonda and Unnao, too, demanding restoration of the traditional recruitment process.

Hundreds of young people took to the streets against the scheme in Bilaspur and Sidhrawali areas of Gurugram and Rewari in Haryana as well.

The protesters laid a virtual seize on bus stands and roads, crippling traffic on the Gurugram-Jaipur highway and held a protest at Bilaspur Chowk. Protests also erupted in Uttarakhand as thousands gathered demanding the withdrawal of the scheme.

Aspirants slashed the posters and banners put up by the BJP government in various parts of the state and raised slogans.

On Wednesday, around 150 people blocked the Ajmer-Delhi highway for more than an hour, leading to 2 km-long traffic jams on both sides, much to the dismay of the commuters.

To cut down on salary and pension bills, the government launched a tour on duty scheme, Agnipath, on June 14.

The three forces will recruit 46,000 youth (male and female) aged between 17.5 and 21 years under the scheme. They will be referred to as Agniveers.

The scheme faced criticism from the political opposition too.

Attacking the government over the scheme, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi warned it would reduce the operational effectiveness of the armed forces, whose dignity and valour must not be compromised.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also hit out at the government and asked why it was making recruitment in the army its “laboratory”.

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Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav called the move negligent and potentially fatal for the country’s future.

Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda requested the government reconsider and rationalise the scheme by ensuring permanent jobs for soldiers who complete their four-year term in the armed forces. BSP supremo Mayawati also termed it unfair to rural youth.

Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan welcomed the scheme and said those who serve in the Army under the Agnipath scheme would be given priority in the Madhya Pradesh Police recruitment after they complete their four years of service.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also said the government would prioritise Agniveers in recruitment to police and related services in the state.

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Union minister and BJP leader Ashwini Choubey says some people using students for political gains

Ashwini Kumar Choubey, on Thursday, urged students protesting against the Agnipath scheme to stop their agitation and keep away from those inciting them, as he asserted that the initiative is in the interests of them, the armed forces, and the country.

Protesters says “We demand that the recruitment be done as it used to be done earlier,Tour of Duty (ToD) be rolled back & exams be held as earlier. Nobody will go to Army just for 4 yrs”

Agnipath, the tour of duty scheme, proposes the recruitment of jawans on a contractual basis for a four-year period followed by compulsory retirement for most without gratuity and pension benefits. The new recruitment plan aims to cut down the government’s massive salary and pension bills and free up funds for arms procurement.