Protests and hunger strike by veterans across the country have now entered the fourth week. Previously, thousands of war medals were returned to the President of India. An insensitive political class appears to be unconcerned about these most unusual and unfortunate developments. It is not something which has surfaced suddenly and unexpectedly. The struggle for ‘one-rank one pension’ (OROP) has been on for nearly four decades and Parliament and the political class have been aware of the issues all this while.
So, what is it that makes the political executive not only hold back, but in fact go back on its commitment.
POLITICAL CLASS’ WEIRD VIEWS
The political executive is being tutored to give weird views on defence forces. The defence minister is obligated to comment that since Indian defence forces have not fought a war for the last 40 or 50 years, they have lost the respect of the people. One may be tempted to overlook his ignorance of the Kargil war and the operations in Sri Lanka, but surely he could not be unaware that General VK Singh got the second highest number of votes in the Lok Sabha polls last year, second only to the Prime Minister. Perhaps for our defence minister, it is a sign of public’s loss of respect for the military. A group of former director generals of central police organisations (CPOs) marched to the home minister and informed him that giving OROP to the armed forces will demoralise policemen. Perhaps, the home minister is unaware that 80% of military personnel retire at 35-37 years and get only around 37% of last pay drawn as pension, whereas police personnel (central and state) retire at 57-60, and get 50% of last pay drawn as pension. Due to the longer duration of service, these policemen get more pay at the time of retirement, and consequently get much higher pension, which is 50% of last pay drawn as against 37% of much lower pay of soldiers.
One expected the home minister to ask these DGs as to what prompted them to come up with such facetious plea. He could have asked one more, simple question as to how many Indian Police Service officers have died fighting against the Maoists and the insurgents etc over the past six decades.
Equally, those who claim that giving OROP to the defence personnel will lead to similar demands by others need to be questioned on how they arrived at such outlandish proposition. Are these ‘others’ willing to accept a soldier’s terms and conditions of service.
The finance minister informed the delegation which met him that these soldiers joined service, knowing fully-well that they would be compulsorily retired at a very young age. He further called upon the veterans that they need to lower their sights and that there were many interpretations of the OROP. Unfortunately for him, the Koshyari Committee of Parliament, in most unambiguous terms spelled out what OROP is, leaving no room for any second interpretation. Another political worthy informs us that soldiers are paid to die.
CLEARING THE MISCONCEPTION
Some others are busy portraying that OROP is officer-oriented and that the soldier will gain very little. Baseless and mischievous as these projections are, they hold the promise of doing great harm to the cohesiveness of the military and impact its fighting potential. If anything is completely officer-oriented, it is the nonfunctional upgrade (NFU) which the civil services gave to themselves.
Why is the military in India being subjected to such jibes and indignities! In no other democracy in the world has the military ever been driven to resort to such protests. The political executive seems to be ignorant of the far-reaching consequences and impact such goings on will have on the military. Who is behind all this? Who are the people who have the ears of the political executive and are downloading all kinds of false information?
There is a class of people in this government who may be hoping that this agitation if allowed to simmer on will boil over and precipitate matters. They seem to hope that the veterans’ protests will spin off into violent agitation and then they can use the police (state and central) to settle scores. Such thinking is fraught with frightening consequences. It is not only the bonding between the veterans and the serving personnel which needs to be taken into account, but the fact that many officers wearing uniform now have their fathers, uncles, elder brothers part of this agitation. When some of them resort to fast unto death and deaths do take place, or are roughed up by the police, the consequences are completely unpredictable. Often a small spark in one place can set off a chain reaction.
It is hoped that the political executive will, sometime soon, realise that it is being grossly misled by its advisers. What the veterans are asking for is eminently and fairly their due: yes, indeed overdue.