It is the conditioning of the Agniveer that merits attention

Incorporating the Agniveers seamlessly into the milieu of military units is linked to unit commanders being clear about the challenges

Updated - February 23, 2024 08:57 am IST

Published - February 23, 2024 12:08 am IST

‘The government should consider introducing a test of ‘psychology’ as part of the recruitment process’

‘The government should consider introducing a test of ‘psychology’ as part of the recruitment process’ | Photo Credit: AP

The government’s move to introduce a reform in defence policy, by changing the way young men and women are recruited to the Indian armed forces was a surprise. The Agnipath scheme, as it is known, was announced on June 14, 2022, and is in force with the initial batch of Agniveers, as these young men and women are called, already inducted in armed forces units after completion of their recruit training.

The scheme runs on a short-service manpower model, where 75% of the recruited soldiers will leave the service in four years. However, 25% of them will be allowed to continue. There are strong indications that the retention in service is likely to be enhanced to 50%. However, the government has still to take an official stand on this. The scheme has drawn criticism, especially from the veteran community, citing several grounds. The veterans have expressed their disapproval mainly due to the sense of belonging that they continue to nurture towards the organisation that they served in, and not for any partisan leanings. The armed forces are unique in the sense that the serving community always looks up to the veterans as a guiding light, in the true sense of regimentation.

Still early days

Notwithstanding these points and since the ship called Agnipath has already set sail and is into its voyage, a stocktaking of the challenges at hand is necessary. The initial feedback on Agniveers from the units in terms of motivation levels, intelligence, physical standards is by and large positive. However, it is too early to attempt any fair assessment on the pros and cons.

In order to seamlessly incorporate the Agniveers into the milieu of military units, it is important that the respective unit commanders are clear about the challenges ahead. These challenges are beyond the individual capacities of the Agniveers, in which they are likely to excel for the sake of being retained. The challenges are more intangible in nature and warrant the attention of the leaders.

A military unit is eventually expected to deliver when it is in combat. Preparations for the desired outcomes in the face of an adversary have to go on relentlessly and do not wait for testing combat situations. As the cliché goes, ‘only a good dressing room atmosphere can ensure the players perform well during the game’. Similarly, the unit commanders will have to focus on the psychological assimilation of the Agniveers into the unit fabric and ensure that they are moulded into becoming effective team players.

The above board performance of a unit in combat has always been an attribute of the trinity of ‘naam-namak-nishaan’ or the unit’s izzat (pride). In turn, unit pride flows out of unit cohesion, which is a hallmark of an excellent military unit which, in turn, is contingent on the human element of the individual soldier. The basis for soldier discipline and, thereby, his motivation and psychology as a team player is always about his/her individual conscience and character. It is this character that harmonises relationships and builds up unit camaraderie which gives a soldier strength in the battlefield.

S.L.A. Marshall, in his publication, Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command, observes, “I hold it to be one of the simplest truths of war that the thing which enables a soldier to keep going with his weapon is the near presence or the presumed presence of a comrade.”

Combat and technology

Technology-based measures, in terms of weapon platforms and systems, can always be confronted with technology-based counter-measures. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict or, maybe, setbacks by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the Israel-Hamas conflict, have vindicated the point that the human element and conventional methods of combat shall outlive modern technology, which can only complement the age-old methods and tactics. The fact that the Agniveers possess a better technical threshold should not make the leaders complacent. The said attributes will be futile unless these men and women are trained to live a life of camaraderie, keeping in mind the larger goal of unit cohesion.

Watch | How do agniveers train?

Focus on the human element

The facets of the human element in the Agniveers need to be addressed by the leaders who have been assigned the responsibility of training and assessing these impressionable minds. Given the average annual numbers of not more than 40 to 45 Agniveers being inducted in a unit in a year, the unit-level implications of a well-groomed human element is likely to show only after sometime. However, the value-based nurturing, based on unit ethos, needs to commence from now and the onus of planning and executing this rests on the unit leadership. Irrespective of technological advancements in the realm of warfare, the character of a soldier to stand by his flanking mate can never be undermined.

On the issue of competition for retention versus rejection, the Agniveers would try to outdo each other. But a tendency of one-upmanship amongst the Agniveers would go contrary to the goal of developing unit cohesion. The onerous challenge would be to arrest any germination of an undesired personality trait among the lot given that 25% of the Agniveers will stay back. If not conditioned, this could evolve into something serious and affect the health of the unit in the long run.

Finally, the government should consider introducing a test of ‘psychology’ as part of the recruitment process, in line with the methodology used in the selection of officers in the military. This will help the unit commander manage the human resources available and facilitate the better grooming and assessment of Agniveers.

Shashank Ranjan is a retired Indian Army officer (colonel). He currently teaches at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana

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