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Will Theaterisation Become Reality?

By Bhaswar Kumar
June 17, 2024 08:36 IST
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Once rolled out, theaterisation will be the biggest military reform in the country.
It will see the creation of unified theatre commands within the 1.7 million-strong Indian armed forces.

Photograph: Kind courtesy ADG PI/X

Addressing concerns over the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces and continuing the process of making the long-pending unified theatre commands a reality will be two major challenges for the new defence minister.

Shortly after the 18th Lok Sabha polls verdict, which saw the Bharatiya Janata Party falling short of the majority, the party's alliance partners raised concerns about the Agnipath scheme, which the Opposition during the poll campaign had criticised and promised to scrap.

During its second term, the Modi-led government rolled out the Agnipath scheme in June 2022 for short-term induction of personnel to the armed forces.

Under it, both male and female aspirants between 17.5 and 21 years of age are recruited into the cadre below the office's rank for four years, with a provision to retain 25 per cent of them for 15 more years.

Those recruited under the scheme are called Agniveers.

The Janata Dal-United, a significant partner in the NDA with 12 seats, sought a review of the Agnipath scheme.

Speaking to the media, senior JD-U leader K C Tyagi said: 'A section of voters has been upset over the Agnipath scheme. Our party wants those shortcomings, which have been questioned by the public, to be discussed in detail and removed.'

On the same day, Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) chief Chirag Paswan was quoted saying that the Agnipath scheme should be reviewed at an appropriate time.

Paswan's party has won all five contesting seats in Bihar and is an NDA constituent.

Besides ensuring a 'youthful profile' in the forces, the scheme was meant to reduce expenditure on pension and wages.

Those Agniveers who leave the forces after four years do not get post-retirement pension.

Instead, they receive a lump sum severance package at the end of their service.

The scheme's announcement had triggered violent protests in several parts of the country, with sections of the youth opposing it.

Theaterisation of the armed forces

Another major challenge for the defence minister will be to maintain the momentum gained in the theaterisation of the armed forces.

Once rolled out, theaterisation will be the biggest military reform in the country.

It will see the creation of unified theatre commands within the 1.7 million-strong Indian armed forces.

These theatre commands will integrate the army, air force, and navy into one architecture, ensuring tri-services jointness.

The BJP had made a commitment of military theaterisation in its election manifesto.

On May 4, then defence minister Rajnath Singh had said in a media interview that theaterisation was progressing, with a consensus emerging among the three services.

However, he had declined to provide a timeline, cautioning that there were countries which took close to 20 years to implement similar plans.

Nonetheless, there were indications that theaterisation was seeing forward movement.

On May 10, the Inter-Services Organisations (Command, Control and Discipline) Act was notified through a Gazette Notification to be enforced with effect from May 10, 2024.

The aim was to bolster effective command, control and efficient functioning of Inter-Services Organisations (ISOs).

Considered a prerequisite for theaterisation, the Act empowers commanders-in-chief and officers-in-command of ISOs to exercise control over service personnel serving under them for maintaining discipline and administration, without disturbing the unique service conditions of each individual service.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Bhaswar Kumar
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