Promises are easy to make but sometimes difficult to keep. No one had expected that this would not be true of the Modi government’s promise of one rank one pension for the defence services but what is truly surprising is how contradictory comments, first by senior ministers and then by the prime minister himself, have created a situation where ex-servicemen’s anxiety and concern has transformed into undisguised distrust.
If you study the comments by the defence and finance ministers, and the prime minister over the last few weeks you can’t help feel this is a classic case of ministers getting the message wrong. As a result they’ve made a difficult situation decidedly worse. Read on and see if you agree with this conclusion.
On the 17th of May Mr Parrikar said: “OROP is in (the) final stage. The Defence Ministry has approved it and the Finance Ministry will clear it in a few days.” A mere five days later Mr Jaitley effectively contradicted him. Addressing a press conference, he said the methodology for working out how OROP will be calculated has
still to be decided. That sounded like the opposite of what Mr Parrikar had said. Clearly both men can’t be right.
Intrigued by this difference, I asked Mr Parrikar in an interview on the 26th how he accounted for this divergence. His answer suggested that the finance ministry was simply verifying and checking the defence ministry’s calculations and not questioning them, leave aside proposing an alternative. That should have settled the matter.
However, when I asked him how long the finance ministry would take I started to suspect he was hiding more than he was revealing. “A reasonable amount of time” was all he would say. He adamantly refused to explain what that meant. Naturally, that corroborated my initial concerns.
Last weekend Mr Modi seemed to confirm the worst. First, in an interview to The Tribune, he said: “There are varied versions about what the definition of OROP should be…we are trying to arrive at a please-all decision.” This suggested the government doesn’t have an agreed “definition of OROP” and is still “trying” to arrive at one.
Then, in Mann Ki Baat, the prime minister went further: “It is not as simple as I had predicted…it is complicated… I have tasked everybody in the government to find a way in which this can be made simple and unanimously accepted.” And then he added “give me some time”.
In just two weeks the government’s position has veered from ‘we have an agreement and will announce it in a few days’ to ‘we are searching for a definition and need a little more time’. Surely the top three should have spoken amongst themselves and come up with an agreed and convincing line rather than contradict each other and confuse the rest of us? Worse, instead of re-assuring ex-servicemen the prime minister’s candour — if that’s the right word — exacerbated their fears.
Now, three conclusions seem irresistible. First, there are serious and unresolved differences between the defence and finance ministries over the definition of OROP and, no doubt, cost lies at their heart. Second, the PM has either sided with Mr Jaitley or, at least, is not rushing to over-rule his concerns. Third, the PM is asking for time either because he’s hoping he can find the resources to make good a full OROP or because he’s looking for a way to sell a diluted version.
A long hot summer awaits our ex-servicemen!
The views expressed are personal