The three-decade-long struggle of military veterans for rightful cause called one-rank, one-pension (OROP) received its first positive response when the prime minister hopefuls of both the leading political parties in fray then, unequivocally and determinedly accepted it as a just demand and promised its implementation on being voted to power.
It spread cheer on the freckled faces and gloomy homes of our exservicemen, a community suffering the wrath of tough service conditions and insensitivity of successive governments.
This, however, now seems a pipe dream, especially after a non-convincing mention of the commitment to the cause by our PM in his Independence Day address. What struck me was the fine assessment and analysis of our babus to lay a challenging timeline to achieve 100% electrification of the country, notwithstanding the extreme vagaries of weather, terrain, security issues, resources and infrastructure.
On the other hand, an issue as simple as OROP, within the ambit of its approved definition, is being projected as an exercise similar to developing a fifth generation missile technology.
The sentiments expressed in popular hindi song “Kya hua tera vaada, voh qasam voh iraada” also fall short of ignominy that plagues the veterans.
For the sake of brainstorming over the issue, let us explore possible reasons for such an intriguing delay. Firstly, the Koshiayari committee duly instituted by the government has arrived at the definition that the demand is unjustified in its approved form.
The popular interpretation of a soldier retiring with same rank and length of service, irrespective of date of retirement, gets same pension… simple. The prime minister hopefuls of the world’s largest democracy surely could comprehend this elementary requirement before they gleefully promised its implementation.
Secondly, that such a demand would elicit similar response from other uniformed services. It does not require a research to distinguish between chalk and cheese. Service conditions applicable to Indian military service are peculiar and unique. The main issue is the early retirement of military personnel. This is not the case with others.
Thirdly, that the government cannot sustain the monetary burden of fulfilling its promise. A discussion on this subject can carry on till the cows come home. Suffice it to say that the injustice in pension profile of our military veterans since 1970s, wherein 70% of last pay drawn was brought down to 50% and a corresponding increase in pension of civilian retirees would more than compensate against the argument.
Fourthly, the issue requires more deliberation as to from what date should it come into force. This is like fishing in muddy waters. Like in all cases of discontent, it should come into force from the date of political announcement, which is April 2014.
Fifthly, that the issue be clubbed with the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission. This is probably to dilute the individuality of the issue and make it drown in the sea of community benefits.
Sixthly, and the most scary, the government is mulling on a rank divide, meaning separate officers from others below officer rank, thereby modifying the definition of a soldier and in effect meting out a death knell to the institution of soldiering. This would be a black letter day in our history and a precursor to national doom.
As the matters rest today, the unconvincing assurance by the PM, yet again is unlikely to find favour with the veterans. Assault by the Delhi police on the eve of Independence Day on the unsuspecting ex-servicemen has added insult to the injury. Suffice to say that the government is playing with fire.
The writer is a retired colonel in Chandigarh