A person has died and over 15 were injured in Telangana as an angry mob protesting against the new military recruitment policy, Agnipath, set fire to several trains and damaged public property today. At least 5,000 protesters reportedly entered a railway station in Secunderabad and tried to set fire to a coach of a passenger train carrying nearly 40 people. The passengers, some of whom were children, were saved by the timely action of railway staff, who assisted them in moving to an adjacent coach. At least 40 passengers were inside the A1 coach as it was attacked by protesters with sticks and stones, Suman Kumar Sharma, who is an AC power car mechanic.
“There were around 40 people in here (inside the coach), but of those who committed the crime, I could not count. There were over 5,000 of them,” he said as he showed the wreckage inside the coach. The protesters also tried to set fire to the coach, but timely action from the staff saved it, he said.
The protests against the new military recruitment policy spread to the southern state after entering the third consecutive day in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana. Protests have also been reported in West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. According to the Railways, over 200 trains have been affected since the protests began on Wednesday, with 35 trains canceled and 13 short-terminated.
The agitation broke out after the government unveiled Agnipath on Tuesday — calling it a “transformative” scheme– for the recruitment of soldiers in the Army, Navy, and the Air Force, largely on a four-year short-term contractual basis.
The opposition has also increased its criticism of the government over the new recruitment scheme, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to put their patience to the test by making them walk on Agnipath. Meanwhile, Akhilesh Yadav, the president of the Samajwadi Party, called the move “negligent” and potentially “fatal” for the country’s future.
Following the protests, the age limit for Agnipath recruitment has been raised to 23 from 21 as a “one-time waiver.” The government has also issued a 10-point defence of the scheme, assuring recruits that they will not be left in the cold after completing their four years in the military.