New Delhi: Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Sanjay Singh and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Varun Gandhi Tuesday questioned why candidates for the Agnipath scheme were required to give caste and religion certificates, forcing the Army and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to hit back saying there has been no change in established practices.

The AAP leader tweeted that “for the first time in the history of India, caste is being asked during Army Recruitment”.

He attached a screenshot of what appeared to be the Indian Army recruitment website, which called for candidates to submit caste and religion certificates.

Hours later, Varun Gandhi also raised the issue, with the same screenshot. In a tweet in Hindi, Gandhi said: “There is no reservation of any kind in the [Indian] Army but caste certificate is being sought for recruitment under Agnipath. Will we now decide someone’s patriotism by looking at their caste? The government should think of the impact that changing established traditions of the Army would have on our national security.”

The Agnipath scheme is a short-term recruitment policy that the Defence Ministry announced in June. It envisions recruiting soldiers, to be called ‘Agniveers’, for a period of four years, at the end of which 25 per cent of the recruits from a batch will be retained for regular service. The policy triggered protests across India.

However, senior Army officers dismissed Singh and Gandhi’s tweets as a “needless controversy”, saying the requirement for aspirants to submit caste certificates and, if required, religion certificates, had always been there.

“No change for Agniveer recruitment scheme in this regard,” an Army officer involved in the matter said.

The Army officers also made it clear that religion certificates are also required for performing the last rites of recruits who die during training and soldiers who die in harness.

They said recruitment under Agnipath will be all-India and all-Class unlike before, when specific caste- and class-based requirements were factored in by various regiments.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh responded on the issue outside Parliament, saying it was a rumour that the caste certificate requirement is new.

“The earlier system, existing since the pre-Independence era, is going on. No change has been made. Old system is being continued,” he said.

The Army also released the pro forma from the 2019 recruitment process, which sought a caste certificate affixed with the photograph of the candidate — issued by the tehsildar/SDM/ district magistrate — and a religion certificate, if religion as Sikh/Hindu/Muslim/Christian is not mentioned in the caste certificate.