States & UTs

    Lok Sabha polls 2024: Agnipath scheme, Ankita Bhandari case top of mind issues for Uttarakhand's Garhwal voters

    The Hawk
    April12/ 2024
    Last Updated:

    Electoral Implications of Agnipath Recruitment and Ankita Bhandari Case in Uttarakhand, Local Sentiment and Political Consequences Ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections.

    People block the Rishikesh-Badrinath highway

    Dehradun: People in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand say the Agnipath military recruitment scheme and the Ankita Bhandari murder case will have a bearing on the electoral prospects of the BJP here as these issues weigh heavy on the minds of the electorate.

    The Centre's Agnipath scheme, which seeks to recruit soldiers in the Army, Navy and the Indian Air Force on a short-term contract of four years, has upset the youth aspiring to join the armed forces, several people told PTI.

    There are concerns over the issue of women's safety as well following the Ankita Bhandari murder case, in which the son of a former BJP leader is the main accused. Bhandari, a 19-year-old receptionist at a resort near Rishikesh, was killed allegedly by its owner and two of his accomplices in 2022.

    Ankit Negi, a resident of the Chamoli district, said that choosing the Army as a career option was the primary choice of every youngster here, especially those from the hills or rural areas.

    "Eight years (from 17 to 25) are crucial for every youngster who decides where they will head in life. It decides the future of the person and his family as well. However, after the introduction of this scheme, the youth are deeply agitated."

    "The youth of hill areas are known for their physical strength. Every youngster here used to be very enthusiastic about choosing the Army as a career option. The BJP is not focusing on this issue and it is also not in their election agenda, due to which most of the youngsters here are not in favour of voting for the party," Negi said.

    Abhinav Patwal, a resident of the Pauri district, said the youth were 'angry' after the announcement of the scheme two years ago.

    "We have protested a lot and showed our displeasure regarding the scheme which was imposed on us. Since the announcement of the scheme, we have seen several agitations across the country."

    "We have also tried to share our views about the scheme with the central government via several mediums. We are clear in our minds that if the scheme is not scrapped, then we will not vote in favour of the BJP," Patwal said.

    In June 2022, the government rolled out the Agnipath recruitment scheme for short-term induction of personnel to bring down the age profile of the three services.

    It provides for recruiting youths between the age bracket of 17-and-half years and 21 for four years with a provision to retain 25 per cent of them for 15 more years.

    Umesh Rana, a resident of Srinagar (Uttarakhand), said men are 'upset' with the Agnipath scheme while women are concerned about safety following the Ankita Bhandari incident.

    Shikha Gusain, who hails from the Rudraprayag district of Garhwal, said, "Bhandari was like our daughter and justice is yet to be delivered. Every political party always talks about women's safety in every poll campaign, but if this happens to our daughters or sisters, how will women be safe..." Even the local leaders from the Congress and the BJP at Karnprayag in the Chamoli district agree that these two issues will be on the minds of voters when they go to cast their votes.

    Ishwari Prasad Maikhori, a local Congress leader, said the party is aggressively raising these issues.

    "The BJP wants to fight on national issues, they are not focusing on these points and they have not included these in their election agenda. The youth of the hill state are silently watching it and they will give a strong message on April 19 when they cast their votes. Congress candidate Ganesh Godiyal is actively talking about these issues," he said.

    The Congress has been demanding a CBI probe into Bhandari's murder.

    Harish Sati, a local BJP leader, said, "We accept that these points will have an impact on the polls since people in Uttarakhand are emotionally connected with Army jobs and with the Ankita Bhandari case. However, the development work of the BJP will also play an important role here." Naresh Sharma, a resident of Pauri, said the BJP should not forget that the youth had played a crucial role in 2014, following which the BJP came to power after a decade.

    "Since 2014, one more decade has passed and the Agnipath scheme will have an impact on the polls across the country, while the Bhandari case will surely dent the party in the elections here," Sharma added.

    The election to the five Lok Sabha seats in Uttarakhand will be held on April 19 in the first phase.