I know governments often get it wrong but what Mr Modi has achieved with One Rank One Pension (OROP) is truly breath-taking, if that’s the appropriate adjective.
In one swoop he’s damaged the credibility of his promises, offended his most loyal block of supporters, strained civil-military relations, demoralised serving soldiers, dangerously politicised the ex-servicemen’s movement and added considerably to the distrust we feel for politicians. I’d say bravo if the outcome wasn’t so distressing.
Consider how badly the government has handled matters. On August 14, the defence minister claimed there were “technical difficulties” finalising OROP without specifying what they are. In itself that was perplexing. It underlined the doubts ex-servicemen already harbour.
Then, asked when OROP would be announced he said it would happen during the government’s tenure before covering his tracks by adding the word soon.
A few hours later the finance minister made matters worse. He revealed that “the arithmetical translation” of OROP is proving problematic “because several interpretations are being given”. What this made clear is the government doesn’t have an agreed definition. Or if it does, it no longer stands by it. For ex-servicemen this was tantamount to betrayal.
Finally, the next morning, on Independence Day, the PM confirmed the worst. He said “there is no resolution (as) yet”. Even though he subsequently added “we are in the final stages of deciding” he’d said enough to convince ex-servicemen no early end was in sight.
No wonder there was an explosion of ex-servicemen’s anger. In fact, the government’s ham-handedness corroborated their belief it’s not just unconcerned about ex-servicemen’s feelings but contemptuous of them.
Now the one thing politicians know is how to explain problems and convince people they have the answer. Mr Modi and his ministers failed on both counts.
If OROP as promised is difficult to deliver — and, I guess, that’s what the government believes — this should have been admitted transparently, directly and to all the important leaders of the different ex-servicemen’s movements.
Mr Modi should have met them, explained why he can’t fulfil his original promise and apologised. Then he should have asked for support for the best he can offer.
Such honesty would have won them over. Ex-servicemen don’t want to beggar the nation for their benefit. After all, men who are prepared to die to protect India would not choose to live at the cost of the country.
But the government chose a very different path. It continued to insist it would fulfil OROP whilst its ministers confused and contradicted that commitment with their ill-considered statements. This annoyed ex-servicemen and left them feeling deceived.
But how big a problem is the money problem? Is it really insuperable? In fact, it’s the difference between what ex-servicemen believe is the cost of the defence minister’s promised OROP and what, reportedly, the finance minister insists is the actual amount. I’m told it’s around Rs 4,000 crore.
Now is that really too much for the Indian exchequer to bear? If farmers can be given loan waivers of Rs 70,000 crore why is this excessive for ex-servicemen? Remember, we’re talking of upto 4.5 million people. Add their families and the figure could rise five times.
Finally, what’s the government offering?
If I’m correct, they want to implement OROP with reference to 2011 not 2014, backdate payments to January 1, 2015 rather than April 1, 2014 and renege on the annual rise stipulated by the 6th Pay Commission for 2014-15 and 2015-16. I call that pathetic penny-pinching. Do you disagree?
The views expressed by the author are personal