Govt rejects compulsory military training

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The government walks a tightrope between inculcating discipline and physical fitness in the country's youth, while also safeguarding against a militarised society from where extremist groups can draw on disgruntled youngsters with military training.

While the defence ministry expands the National Cadet Corps (NCC) from 1,500,000 students countrywide to 1,850,000, Defence Minister told Parliament on Friday that the government does not favour compulsory military training.

He was responding to Karnataka Member of Parliament (MP) C S Putta Raju. Several MPs have made similar proposals over the past five years. Three private member bills have sought compulsory military training. This includes one from Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, minister of state for railways in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, and now Congress president in West Bengal. Jaitley rejected compulsory military training for four reasons. First, it would violate India's "democratic ethos", where people are free to choose their professions. He said, "The Constitution does not provide for compulsory military training."

Second, this might militarise India's fragile society. In a startling admission, Jaitley declared: "With our socio-political and economic conditions, (compulsory military training) is highly undesirable, lest some of the unemployed youth trained in military skills join the ranks of the undesirable elements."

The government's apprehension about its citizens contrasts with the United States, where the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects the rights of individuals to keep and carry arms. This is justified through citizens' right to self-defence, the right to resist oppression (including by the state), and the civic duty to come to the defence of the state. Passed in 1791, this one-sentence amendment states, "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arm, shall not be infringed."

Jaitley's third objection to compulsory military training is that the armed forces have "no problem in getting adequate numbers of volunteer recruits". Therefore, there was no need to provide military training across the board. Last, the government's reply noted training youth across the country would involve enormous expense and infrastructure creation. "The likely benefits of imparting military training to all the youth will not be commensurate with the expenditure involved in such an effort," he said.

While compulsory military training carries ominous overtones, the government has steadily expanded the NCC, which includes military and weapons training. Last September, at an apex council meeting, the minister of state for defence, Jitendra Singh, suggested "including aspects of the NCC syllabus into the curriculum of all schools and colleges".

The demand for NCC training is strong. Last September, the defence ministry stated 4,613 schools and 2,764 colleges are on the waiting list for NCC training, with some having applied 25 years ago. To meet that demand, the NCC is upgrading 153 "minor units" to battalion strength. This would allow training to be extended to 3,200 institutions on the waiting list, and increasing the NCC's strength to 1,850,000.


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