The Indian Army, Air Force and Navy were taken by surprise by the Central government’s decision to forumlate the Agnipath scheme, former Chief of the Army General Manoj Mukund Naravane has written in his memoir, reported PTI.

The Agnipath scheme involves recruiting citizens between the ages of 17-and-a-half and 21 into the armed forces for only four years, with a provision to retain 25% of them for 15 more years.

The scheme was announced in June last year and triggered protests across several states as aspirants demanded permanent recruitment with pension benefits. Following the protests, the Centre extended the upper age limit to 23 years for recruitment under the scheme for the first year.

Naravane, who served as the 28th Army chief from December 31, 2019, to April 30, 2022, said in his memoir titled Four Stars of Destiny that he had initially discussed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “tour of duty” scheme for inducting soldiers for short-term tenure only in the Army.

“Just as a limited number of SSC [Short Service Commission] officers are taken each year, likewise a limited number of jawans would be similarly enrolled and released after the completion of their ‘tour’ with the option of re-enlisting for another tour, if found to be fit,” wrote the former chief, describing his discussion with the prime minister.

The discussion did not progress as the Covi-19 pandemic broke out soon after, followed by the clashes in Galwan in eastern Ladakh.

“However, the prime minister’s office [PMO] was considering this proposal but with a much wider scope and applicability,” he wrote.

Naravane wrote that the PMO formulated the scheme to not only state that the complete intake of the year will be short-service based, but that it would also apply to all three services.

“We in the Army were taken by surprise by this turn of events, but for the Navy and Air Force, it came like a bolt from the blue,” he wrote.

He also recalled that initially, the first year’s starting salary for the inductees was kept at just Rs 20,000 per month all-inclusive.

“This was just not acceptable,” wrote Naravane. “Here, we were talking about a trained soldier, who was expected to lay down his life for the country. Surely a soldier could not be compared with a daily wage labourer? Based on our very strong recommendations, this was later raised to Rs 30,000 per month.”

‘Xi Jinping won’t forget’

Writing about the conflict between India and China along the Line of Actual Control, Naravane stated that it took the Indian Army to show to the world that “enough is enough” by challenging the “neighbourhood bully”.

In June 2020, Indian and Chinese troops had clashed in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control, which was the deadliest in 45 years. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in the hand-to-hand combat. While Beijing had acknowledged casualties early, it did not disclose details till February 2021, when it said four of its soldiers had died.

Naravane wrote that following a tense situation arising out of the Chinese troops moving tanks and troops in the Rechin La mountain pass on the LAC, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had told him to do whatever he “deemed appropriate”.

He said that the day of the clashes was “one of the saddest days of my entire career”. However, he said Chinese President Xi Jinping would never forget the day.

“June 16 is Xi Jinping’s birthday. This is not a day he will forget any time soon,” he wrote. “For the first time in over two decades, the Chinese and the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] had suffered fatal casualties.”