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Counsel the youth, but punish the rioters

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In case of Agneepath scheme, young men who were hoping for recruitment to re-start after the COVID-19 freeze were predictably taken aback by the announcement

For three days images of trains being consigned to flames, tracks being damaged, policemen being shot at and common citizens including school children being subjected to all kinds of horrors kept playing on our television screens. Almost as if they were working on some clockwork plan, protestors gathered at strategic locations in various towns and Kasbas of Bihar, UP, Rajasthan, Telangana, Haryana and lower reaches of Uttarakhand demanding the withdrawal of the newly announced Agneepath recruitment policy for the armed forces. The railways and police stations bore the maximum brunt of the violence and arson. Till date, there is no certain assessment of how much damage was caused to national property.

Counsel the youth, but punish the rioters

Despite the fact that protestors showed no consideration for life or property, law enforcing agencies have so far displayed exemplary patience in dealing with the violence, particularly those GRP personnel and local policemen who were reportedly shot at directly by protestors carrying guns. While not endorsing the violence in so many words, the opposition leaders and spokespersons openly built up a case for the violent protests.

Meanwhile, there have been enough news reports and statements from authorities which show that the protests were anything but organic. This is where the ground gets slippery. In a vibrant democracy, protesting is a legitimate right and under no circumstances can the citizens' right to voice their protests be curbed. However, when protests turn into riots, threaten the security of other citizens and put innocent children's life into jeopardy, then it is time to crack the whip. There is no point crying over spilt milk or having endless academic debates after the country has been scarred.

In case of Agneepath scheme, young men who were hoping for recruitment to re-start after the COVID-19 freeze were predictably taken aback by the announcement. Although plans for a Tour of Duty programme were on the cards for some time, the aspirants obviously did not anticipate such an order. It is also corroborated by state administration sources that the first flush of protests were a natural outburst led by some of the aspirants.

But that is where the script is believed to have changed. Political parties, sensing the political potential of the protests, immediately came forward to steer the 'agitation'. As reports have further confirmed, the role of some coaching institutes (who pride in advertising guaranteed govt jobs) went a long way in fanning the violence. In fact, coaching institutes in small towns of Bihar deliberately provoked the youngsters that they should show their might to the govt and we know how that panned out.

It is no rocket science to understand that the moment there were FIRs and the law enforcing agencies started investigating the role of coaching institutes and some political activists were caught leading the violence, the protests suddenly became peaceful.

But that doesn't mean they cannot flare up again. To prevent a redo of the anti-CAA protests which (as per the protestors themselves) was against a non-existent NRC or the anti-farm law agitation which was limited to a certain area, the govt needs to adopt a two-pronged approach towards the protestors. There are genuine aspirants who have a passion to join the armed forces and may be feeling disappointed at this juncture. The govt needs to conduct a wide level outreach to counsel them, allay their apprehensions and engage with them to sensitise about the need for the reforms.

There is also a need to explain why Agneepath does not spell doom for their future as some of the opposition spokespersons are wont to argue. This is not so difficult. The local thana and grassroots administrative apparatus know very well who is a genuine aspirant and who is not.

They also know who are the 'professional' protestors who are nowhere in the reckoning for a soldier's job but leading the violence and rioting. In fact, video evidence from Bihar has confirmed that some of the protestors leading the arson and violence were the same faces who led the violence during Railway recruitment agitation few months back.

Thankfully, both approaches are being exercised even as I write this column. The govt has directed its functionaries to go out and engage the youth about the need for reforms and allay their fears. Top defence officials have been holding detailed media outreach for the same purpose. It is now time to move out of media rooms in the national capital and conduct sessions in the mofussial areas from where the recruits actually come. In this age of social media, conducting such sessions is not such a challenge.

If protestors can burn the country in the matter of minutes by harnessing the social media, why can't the administration use the same tools to spread awareness?

Meanwhile, the police in various affected areas is sifting through the evidence to identify those who indulged in violence, arson and rioting. Army top brass has already announced that these persons would not be eligible for recruitment at any cost. In fact, police verification is a compulsory pre-requisite for these appointments. It is just a matter of strict implementation.

However, it is my conscious belief that they were hardly any genuine aspirants of armed forces among the perpetrators of violence. It would be a sad day if they really were.

(Smita Mishra writes on politics and current affairs)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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