A late-night phone call on Monday by army chief General Dalbir Singh to furious veterans demanding parity in pension followed by a meeting between PMO officials and ex-servicemen the next day seems to have eased tensions between the two sides, for now.
After an hour-long meeting with the PM’s principal secretary Nripendra Misra, the ex-servicemen at the forefront of the one rank-one pension (OROP) agitation said on Tuesday they had put on hold the plan to intensify the protest provided Prime Minister Narendra Modi met them within 10 days.
During the day, senior Delhi Police officer MK Meena, following a directive from home minister Rajnath Singh, met the veterans and apologised on behalf of his force. The police had forcibly tried to evict the protesters from Jantar Mantar on the eve of Independence Day, triggering outrage.
But piling pressure on the government, a third veteran - Havildar Ashok Chauhan (retd) -- joined two of his comrades in their fast unto death in support of their demand that is expected to benefit three million pensioners.
The army chief made a call to veterans after 10pm, informing them that a meeting had been fixed with PMO officials, a sign of behind-the-scenes efforts to defuse the crisis that has virtually pitted soldiers against the government.
Major General Satbir Singh (retd), who heads the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement and was part of a two-man team that met Mishra, said, “The army leadership deserves credit for its constructive approach. Mishra asked us to call off the agitation, saying the PMO was concerned. We told him we need a concrete assurance to stop it and also sought a meeting with the PM within 10 days.”
After the meeting, he and lieutenant general Balbir Singh (retd) called on the army chief in his South Block office. “We briefed the army chief on the discussion we had in the PMO. He suggested that we try to get the veterans to break their fast unto death,” Satbir Singh said.
The OROP issue has assumed political overtones. In Amethi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi ridiculed Modi’s announcement of a R1.25 lakh crore package for Bihar, saying it was a poll gimmick that would go the OROP way.
As many as 10 former chiefs had on Monday warned the government against a further delay in granting OROP, saying it would erode the military’s morale and pride. They had also condemned police action against ex-servicemen at Jantar Mantar.
OROP will guarantee equal pension to military personnel retiring in the same rank with same length of service, regardless of their date of retirement.