Rajat Sharma

Agnipath: How some coaching centre owners are instigating violence

rajat-sirThe fourth day of protests against Agnipath scheme witnessed fresh arson and stone pelting in several districts of Bihar and in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. Reports of burning of trucks, buses and other vehicles, stone pelting and vandalization came from Jehanabad, Taregana, Masaurhi, and other places.

At Taregana station in Bihar, the RPF office was set ablaze and more than a dozen vehicles parked outside were set on fire. Protesters tried to set the Masaurhi railway station on fire on Saturday. In Jehanabad, nearly a dozen vehicles were torched near a police post, and later a bus and a truck were set on fire.

The Danapur Divisional Railway Manager put the losses to railway properties at over Rs 200 crore. 50 coaches, five engines have been completely burnt, and platforms, computers and technical devices were smashed by protesters, he said. Internet services were blocked in 12 districts of Bihar to prevent escalation of violence, even as RJD and Left parties gave a Bihar Bandh call on Saturday.

There were protests in Jaunpur,Kannauj and Gautam Buddha Nagar in UP. Protesters tried to block the Agra-Lucknow expressway near Kannauj. In Chennai, protesters marched to the War Memorial to stage protest against the scheme.

In a fresh development, the Union Home Ministry announced 10 per cent quota in vacancies in all para-military forces and Assam Rifles for demobilized Agniveers who complete four years of service in the army. Three years’ age relaxation has been announced beyond the prescribed upper age limit for Agniveers, while, for the first batch, five years’ relaxation beyond the prescribed upper age limit has been announced.

Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhary said, “violence and arson is not the solution. If the aspirants have any doubts, there are military stations, Air Force and Naval bases, where they can go and get their doubts clarified….If you look at the scheme in totality, there are many advantages that need to be highlighted. The domains of warfare are changing, we need younger and more tech-savvy people in the Services. In IAF, we will have the benefit of selecting more technically qualified people.”

On Friday, Bihar bore the brunt of most of the arson and violence in Bettiah, Arah, Buxar, Samastipur, Danapur, Hajipur, Gaya, Supaul, Begusarai, Buxar, Nalanda, Nawada, Lakhisari, Bhagalpur, Sasaram, Muzaffarpur, Aurangabad, Bhojpur, Munger, Arwal, Jehanabad, Patna, Vaishali, Khagaria, Jamui, Rohtas, Shehpura, Siwan, Bagaha and Madhepur. There were disturbing scenes of trains burning, passengers screaming, children cowering in fear, railway fire staff trying to douse flames with water pipes, and GRP jawans standing helplessly. In neighbouring UP, there were protests in Agra, Mathura, Varanasi, Aligarh, Banda and Basti.

The most disturbing visuals came from Kulharia railway staton in Arrah, Bihar, where a stationary train was set on fire. As the flames spread, firemen scrambled to control, but, by that time, the train was reduced to ashes. In Samastipur, the Darbhanga-Delhi Bihar Sampark Kranti Express was set on fire. The protesters first looted belongings left by passengers, and then set fire to the coaches. At Lakhisarai station, a train was torched even before the passengers alighted, leading to the death of a passenger. At Isampur station in Nalanda, four coaches of Magadh Express were torched by protesters.

Questions naturally arise as to why Bihar seems to be epicentre of anti-Agnipath protests. On a single day (Friday), 12 trains were torched in Bihar and more than 234 trains had to be cancelled. Violence took place at 24 places. Thousands of passengers had to face food and water shortage both on rail tracks and highways. I spoke to several experts in Bihar and their replies were revealing.

It seems that in Bihar, there is much attraction among youths for government jobs, whether in armed forces, or para-military forces, railway or education department. A member of a family, after getting a government job, immediately gains social status. In army, Bihar had a five per cent reservation, but the craze for army jobs was several times more than the reservation quota. A young person who get a government job, even in Class 4 (peon) category, immediately gets marriage proposals, tagged with offers for dowry, and the marriage of sisters becomes easier.

The youths who had cleared physical fitness and medical tests, and were waiting to join the armed forces, are the most worried lot, because they now feel that their hopes have been dashed to the ground. This is the sole reason behind their anger and desperation. Several of them had already marriages lined up, but after the Agnipath scheme was announced, all previous test results became obsolete. I got another important clue about who are behind these street protests.

There are scores of coaching centres spread across Bihar, where these youths were undergoing physical training and written tutorials for the armed forces.. These coaching centres play a crucial role in shaping the future of these youths who aspire for army jobs. Since the craze for defence jobs is high in Bihar, the state has emerged as a coaching hub for thousands of aspirants, who are now out on the streets.

With the Agnipath scheme being launched, most of these coaching centre owners feel that they might have to wind up their business. There are reports that some of these coaching centre owners, whom these aspirants consider as ‘guru’, started posting videos on social media criticizing Agnipath scheme. Several such videos were sent to me. Some of them are clearly politically motivated.

One Patna coaching centre owner is telling youths “do not lose any opportunity to stage protest”. He was peddling fake news about 63 youths already having committed suicide, which is completely baseless. This is how the youths are being incited through social media. They are being told that they would not get any government job after serving four years in the armed forces.

In one of the videos, a Patna coaching centre owner is shown as saying: “First of all, you revolt against TOD (Tour of Duty) at every level possible. Revolt completely. Do not spare any level. If you want to show your ‘josh’, your courageand motivation, show it to the government, and not to your mummy or papa. Till yesterday, 42 died and today the suicide tally has reached 63. These are based on information that we got. There could be many such villages. Suicide is useless, do not do it. If you get report of suicide from any village, go there and tell the youths, do not commit suicide Give them good thoughts. TOD has been forcibly implemented.”

There are dozens of such coaching centres, each training nearly 200 to 400 youths. Their number runs into thousands, and the coaching centre owners are raking in money. These youths believe every word imparted by these owners, whom they consider as their ‘guru’.

Another Patna coaching centre owner is clearly instigating the youths to set buses and trains on fire. In one of the videos, he is shown as saying: “The future of the country is in the hands of youths, but their interests are not being looked after. Youths are committing suicide. None of you must do that. Every youth has the right to voice his demand. In several cities, trains are being torched. You have the right to protest. Do that, but do not resort to suicide. If you want to die, die while fighting this system. If you remain alive you can fight, but who will fight if you die. The government is bound to bow to your will. …This message must reach Modi Ji.”

These video messages are being forwarded through social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Telegram. Thousands of youths are getting these video messages, and are resorting to arson, stoning and violence. They are being instigated by coaching centre owners. In my prime time show on India TV ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night, I showed some of these videos. These videos have reached millions of youths and the government has suspended internet services for the next 48 hours in 12 districts of Bihar. All apps have been blocked.

In neighbouring UP, the Kanpur Police Joint CP A P Tiwari said on Friday that a ‘Boycott TOD’ Whatsapp group has been created where youths are being incited to come out on the streets and protest. Police have identified the admins of this group and is taking action against them.

For the police, tracking such messages, identifying members and rounding them up to stop their message going viral is a big challenge. Political parties have already entered the fray to grind their own axe, but the silence of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on this issue is surprising. His party JD(U) appears to be giving silent support to these protests.

For the youths, I can only say, they have the right to voice their protest, but they can do it only in a peaceful manner. Setting fire to railway engines and coaches, which cost several crores of rupees each, cannot bring a solution for them. Stoning buses and vehicles on highways is not the solution. Youths who dream of serving the nation and are born patriots, cannot be expected to cause irreparable losses to the nation’s properties.

They must know that discipline is the topmost requirement in armed forces. Youths who are pelting stones and torching trains, can never realize their dreams of becoming a soldier. Youths should sit down and think calmly, and should refrain from being incited by elements who have vested interests.

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