Massive protests demanding the rollback of the Agnipath scheme continued across the country for the third day on Friday. One protester was killed in police firing in Secunderabad in Telangana and hundreds of people injured in various places in the violence that marked the agitations. Scores of people have been arrested or detained by the police in various States. The Opposition parties, trade unions and outfits of students, youth and farmers pledged support for the protests and demanded immediate reversal of the scheme that “contractualises” Army jobs. Trains and other public property remained the target of the protesters with over 340 trains getting affected on the day due to protests.
One protester was killed and 13 others sustained injuries when police opened fire to quell a violent mob at the Secunderabad railway station on Friday morning. About 1,000 Army recruitment job aspirants reached the railway station and made their way onto the platforms and started damaging railway property. The gathering was apparently mobilised using four WhatsApp groups created by these job aspirants. The vast majority of these protesters hailed from north Telangana districts and some from south Telangana. They said they had appeared for the physical and medical tests and were waiting for the written exam which was postponed on account of the pandemic.
Protests erupted in several districts of West Bengal too. Though there was no report on any violence, rail and vehicular movement was disrupted at various places in the State. The protests started at 7.45 a.m. and continued till 9.30 a.m. The youths carrying the national flag demanded withdrawal of recruitment under the Agnipath scheme. Train services under the Sealdah section was disrupted due to the protests.
Two buses set on fire
Protests broke out in Aligarh district in western Uttar Pradesh as hundreds of young men demonstrated against the scheme at the Khereshwar temple crossing in the Lodha area. At least two public transport buses were set on fire and several official vehicles were damaged. In neighbouring Jattari, the vehicle of the panchayat chairman was set on fire. The protesters tried to storm into the panchayat office.
Around half-a-dozen police personnel sustained injuries and police vehicles were vandalised in Haryana’s Jind amid Statewide protests for second day in a row. The protesters and the police clashed in Faridabad’s Ballabhgarh around noon. Seven persons were arrested and several rounded up across the State in connection with the First Information Reports registered for violence and blocking of highways during the protests over the past two days.
Prohibitive orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code were imposed in Gurugram and Faridabad restricting free movement and gathering of more than four people. Mobile Internet services were suspended in Mahendragarh for 24 hours. Farmer unions in Haryana — Bharatiya Kisan Union (Charuni) and the State unit of the All-India Kisan Sabha — also announced support to the armed forces aspirants’ demand for the withdrawal of the Agnipath scheme.
Bihar remained the eye of the storm of protests. Protesting aspirants attacked Bihar BJP chief Sanjay Jaiswal’s residence and business establishments in his home town Bettiah and set the BJP office in Madhepura on fire. Over half a dozen trains and several vehicles across the State were burnt down. Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi had to put off her visit to Bettiah due to violent protests.
They also vandalised the house of Ms. Devi who too comes from Bettiah town. “The large-scale violence and arson is a handiwork of goons instigated by the Opposition parties, otherwise what else explains the targeted attack on BJP leaders?”, asked Ms. Devi. She said, “My house in Bettiah town was also attacked like the petrol pump owned by our State BJP chief Mr. Jaiswal”. In neighbouring district of east Champaran, BJP MLA Vinay Bihari’s car was attacked but the driver and the MLA escaped unhurt.
Vehicular traffic hit
At least three trains stationed at Danapur near Patna were set on fire along with over two dozen vehicles. Incidents of violence by protesting aspirants came from Bhagalpur, Sultanganj, Munger, Khagaria, Aurangabad, Lakhisarai, Gaya, Bihta, Fatuah (in Patna district). Movement of several trains and vehicles on national highways got affected in these districts due to violent protests. The protesting aspirants also attacked and set the BJP office in Madhepura on fire.
The Opposition parties too mounted pressure on the Centre to review the scheme. Congress leader Deepinder Singh Hooda urged the Centre to immediately take back the Agnipath scheme. “It is neither in favour of national security nor national interests and certainly not in favour of the country’s youth. We demand an age relaxation of three years as there has been no recruitment for the last three years. Anything less than three years is not acceptable,” Mr. Hooda said. AICC general secretary K.C. Venugopal demanded a discussion about the scheme in the Defence Standing Committee of Parliament. CPI general secretary D. Raja said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should stop forcing the youth of the country on the path of fire. “Finding jobs has become literally a path of fire under Mr. Modi,” he said. “The demonstrations happening across the country are clear proof that the youth of India will never accept Agnipath. No policy or law can be greater than the passion for service to the nation,” said AAP leader and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia
The farmers organisations and trade unions are trying to repeat a scenario similar to the protests against three farm laws where the Centre had to repeal the Acts after protests. The All India Kisan Sabha and the All India Agriculture Workers Union have decided to observe June 21 as protest day against Agnipath. “Historically youth from the peasant families constitute a major chunk of soldiers in the armed forces. This historical and organic connection between the peasantry and the armed forces was evident in the open and subtle support expressed by several serving and retired armed personnel to the historic farmers’ struggle against the draconian farm laws,” said AIKS leaders Hannan Mollah and Ashok Dhawale in a statement. The AITUC, CITU and the HMS issued separate statements condemning the Centre’s move. Various students and youth federations too held joint protests in Delhi.
The Railways said 94 mail and express trains and 140 passenger trains have been cancelled due to the protests and 65 mail and express and 30 passenger trains were partially cancelled. “Eleven mail and express trains have been diverted. The total number of trains affected so far stands at 340,” an official said.