Farmer protest
Captain Malik celebrating on the day farm laws were withdrawn by the government | Facebook pic

Why this jawan-turned-kisan thinks Agnipath has raised farmers' angst

This time round, farmer-protestors plan to give vent to their resentment against the Centre's Agnipath scheme, keeping the future of their offspring in mind, says a retired Army captain

Retired army captain Shamsher Singh Malik from Rohtak, Haryana, took to farming after his Short Service Commission in the Army concluded in the 1990s after 10 years of active service. He, along with his wife, was also a part of farmers’ stir that began in November 2020 and continued until last December.

In November 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the withdrawal of the three controversial farm laws. And, thus, the farmers called off the stir on the promise that their grievances would be looked into by the government, which would follow the recommendations of a committee comprising all the stakeholders. No committee has been constituted till date.

Also read: Seven months after kisan protest ended, farmers are far from happy

Now, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of myriad farm unions spread across the country, is once again gearing up to take on the government. The Morcha feels betrayed by the Centre and has thus called countrywide protest meets beginning July 18, the day the Monsoon session of Parliament starts.

Besides the farm issues, this time round, the protestors also plan to give vent to their resentment against the government’s short-term Agnipath military recruitment scheme, keeping the future of their offspring in mind.

The Federal spoke to Capt Malik about the developments.

The battle and the war

The farmers led by SKM thought that they had won the battle with the PM’s volte-face in November 2021 from his earlier stand, but they, in fact, lost the war. They were “cajoled” by the PM’s address to the nation and dispersed from the gates of Delhi that they had been besieging for over a year.

Unlike the agitators, the PM and his party had their eyes mainly on the Uttar Pradesh polls and generally on the four other state assemblies that went to the hustings in February-March this year. The BJP was successful in winning elections in most of these states, including UP, and, thus, the assurances given to farmers by the government were conveniently forgotten.

‘Agnipath scheme against farmers’

“Today farmers feel totally disempowered and virtually lame and, thus, look to the government for mercy. They have lost the gains that they could have otherwise made, had they not taken the Prime Minister’s words at their face value. Modi decided to scrap farm laws for the sake of winning UP election and once the BJP won the polls, the farmers’ upcoming generations’ likelihood to join armed forces was severely restricted by the Agnipath scheme that will allow only a four-year tenure to most recruits. I served in the Army for 10 years and yet ended up without pension or free healthcare. I have to pay around Rs 50,000 or so a year for my family’s health insurance,” Malik told The Federal.

Captain Malik during the anti-farm bill protests on the Delhi border

After completing the Short Service Commission for 10 years, pension was only said to be a possibility and never became a reality. How can four years of service bring any security or assurance to the new recruits after the end of their short-term service, he wondered.

“It’s actually further shortening — and a sharp one at that — of the Army commission I had accepted,” he quipped. According to him, the resentment against the government move this time is quite deep. But the youth and students have been deterred from agitating against it because of the government’s threat to “blacklist” and bar them from joining not only the Army but also any other state service.

Malik was president of the student’s union of Rohtak University before he joined the Aarmy with, what he called, “high hopes”. This ended with the return to the civilian life that generally shows, as per him, little consideration for retired Army personnel or for even an officer like him. The opportunities after retirement are far and few and even if one succeeds in getting some foothold somewhere, it is seldom permanent or lasting.

Since Malik was a students’ leader in his younger days, he said, he easily veered towards becoming a part of the CPI(M)-backed Kisan Sabha, or its farmers’ wing. And this is how he also took part in farmers’ stir during 2020-21 against the three farm laws. Its revival is necessary since the main demand like fixing of suitable MSP, or minimum support price, for farm produce with a legal guarantee for its adherence is still a far cry, as per his assessment.

‘Electoral fortunes decide govt’s stand’

But, he cautioned, the SKM has to be more careful than before because the current government bothers more for its electoral fortunes than that of farmers or any other social group or occupational entity, observed Malik.

He recalled that he had visited a few villages like Khair in Aligarh district of western UP during the electioneering and found that the farmers’ groups failed to convince the voter about the need to further humble the BJP and the government, led by it both in the state as well as at the Centre. “Once the government got through the poll test, the farmers’ cause became a subject of more contempt in the eyes of the powers-that-be,” he lamented.

Also read: SKM accuses govt of not keeping promises, plans nationwide protests

Captain Malik went on to add the farm leaders should consider what best can be done to make the government relent from its old ways that are detrimental for not only the farmers but also their future generations.

The Agnipath scheme under which farmers’ children can get a military job (if they do get selected at all) only for four years is actually a continuation of the anti-farmer policy of the government that needs an overhaul as much as the farm policies, asserted Captain Malik.

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