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Thursday, August 6, 2015

DENYING OUR FORCES DUE THEY DESERVE



 
If the Government aims to divide the veteran community, it must remember that they have a lot to learn from their masters about communal carnages and insurgencies

It has been more than a month since the military veteran community commenced its symbolic relay hunger strike at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi and at other towns across the country to protest against the delay in implementation of the one-rank-one-pension scheme that had earlier been accepted by the Government. That Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his advisors are unmoved by this unprecedented act on the part of those who have willingly made sacrifices for the security and integrity of this nation, tells us more about Mr Modi's wisdom, character and statesmanship, or lack thereof, despite all pretensions and posturing to the contrary. It is worth remembering that among those fighting for this cause are veterans of all wars that this country faced since independence.
Symbolism counts, especially in a poor and developing country like ours. Mr Modi knew about this, and was able to use it to a great extent on his way to the prime ministership. Unfortunately, he and his advisors failed to understand one simple truth, that symbolism without substance is hollow and a sham. It is seen through very quickly. That it has been an a grievous error of judgment on part of such an astute politician, is indeed surprising, given the fact that this is one war, he can never win. In fact, the bureaucracy has been fighting a rearguard battle ever since the 2009 judgement by the Supreme Court in the Major General SPS Veins (retired) and others case. It had then ruled that no defence personnel, senior in rank could get a lower pension than his junior, irrespective of the date of retirement, and that similarly placed officers of the same rank should be given the same pension irrespective of the date of retirement, in effect of the OROP.

That the BJP has nobody but itself to blame, is obvious as it paints itself as the villain of the piece haemorrhaging goodwill. That this occurred despite its Government having agreed to implement the directions of the court as late as February 17 this year, during the hearing on a contempt petition filed by Major General SPS Veins is in itself a mystery as well. In another twist to the ongoing saga, media reports have suggested that Additional Solicitor General, Ms Pinky Anand, recently informed the court that the centre would grant OROP to the petitioners in three to four days While one would like to believe that the Government has learnt its lessons and is now looking to cut its losses and clear up the whole mess, apprehensions continue to be expressed that the Government, in another move to delay the inevitable, may clear OROP scheme for Major Generals only, the petitioners in the case at point, and thereby attempt to divide the veteran community.

If this were to be the case, then it may be worth remembering that, while we have certainly picked up the fine art of dividing from our former masters, we still have a lot to learn from them about ruling, communal carnages and insurgencies. One can state with absolute certainty that Mr Modi's actions would then be worse than those of Jawaharlal Nehru and Krishna Menon, his Defence Minister, which resulted in the 1962 debacle. Not only can it lead to disharmony and finger pointing within the veteran community and provide support to those within the community, who believe that only strong action gets the Government to acquiesce, but worse, adversely impact serving personnel by creating friction within it. By turning the ethos of service before self, that has been the cornerstone of this Army's professional excellence through the years, on its head; the Government would make the position of the senior hierarchy morally untenable.

While veteran general officers affected by such a decision, will in all probability, may refuse to accept such a decision and can even approach the Supreme Court to modify its direction to include all affected personnel, thereby avoiding a spate of litigation that is bound to occur. However, serving officers will not have such a choice and will be confronted by a moral dilemma not of their making.The adverse impact of the divide between those eligible for OROP and those who would miss out is not difficult to foresee. In fact, it certainly is one of the major factors that impacts the functioning and performance of our central Armed Forces, where officers from the IPS rule the roost, while the rest are left to their own devices. The fact that they superannuate at 59 or 60 years of age, is a saving grace. Surely, even our politicians understand the implications of reducing our military to such a sorry state.

(The writer is a military veteran and consultant with the Observer Research Foundation)

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