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Struggle for one rank-one pension

chandigarh Updated: Feb 23, 2014 11:26 IST

The government has finally accepted the principle of one rank-one pension (OROP). Under it, soldiers of the same rank retiring at different times will get equal pension for the services rendered by them. Provision has been made for enhanced payments under the accepted demand in the interim budget for the financial year of 2014-15.

This is the culmination of 30 years of raising the demand, agitations, discussions, lobbying and fighting for its acceptance by ex-servicemen. It has been a tough struggle. For the acceptance of their just demand, they embarked upon firstly educating the general public and informing the powers that be in a nuanced manner.

Having received a modicum of support from the citizenry, they engaged the government in long-drawn out discussions which served to keep their demand in the public eye. They kept their agitation low-key, in the manner of soldiers. Driven to the wall, however, they did not resort to violence, ‘Rasta Rokos’ or other methods which would’ve inconvenienced their fellow citizens. As a mark of protest, they parted with their most prized possessions — their medals earned with much hard labour, sweat and blood.

In their struggle for justice, the veterans did not lack backers from among the political class. According to ex-servicemen activists, Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa took up cudgels on their behalf and made their voice heard at the top levels of the government and the ruling party. His consistent efforts helped immeasurably in the final acceptance of OROP. Similarly, independent Karnataka member of Parliament (MP), Rajiv Chandrashekhar, through his initiatives — both within the Parliament and outside - kept the veterans’ demand on the political agenda.

A commander forged in war

In May 1948, Pakistani forces had captured Kargil and Dras and were besieging Leh. They were poised to exploit beyond the Zoji La Pass into the Kashmir Valley. It was imperative that their advance be stopped and the beleaguered forces in Ladakh be relieved. First Patiala Rajindra Sikhs, one of the finest State Forces units with a great combat record in the Burma Campaign, was moved into the area under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Sukhdev Singh. For four months, the Patialas fought in extreme weather without artillery support and lacking proper equipment at heights between 10,000 and 17,000 feet, keeping the enemy at bay. Sukhdev Singh conducted these operations as well as the subsequent push to Dras and Kargil with great skill and daring. Through the force of his personality, he motivated his men to carry out great feats of endurance, forcing the enemy to fall back.

They finished the war with a large number of decorations with their commanding officer (CO) being awarded the Vir Chakra for his leadership, courage and determination. Earlier in 1946, Sukhdev Singh had been awarded the Military Cross for extricating an armoured column stuck in a minefield and pinned down by enemy fire with his company. This was in action against insurgents in Indonesia.

Belonging to Bahomajra near Khanna in Ludhiana district, Sukhdev Singh served with various units of the Patiala infantry after passing out from the Indian Military Academy in 1935. He experienced Frontier operations in Waziristan in 1940-41, before serving in the Burma Campaign with First Patiala. Rising to the rank of Brigadier, he commanded three infantry brigades before retiring in 1960. He is reputed to be one of the best fighting commanders in the Indian Army.

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