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Thursday, September 10, 2015

OROP: The sowing of a malaise

By A K Sachdev

 The enormous insult to our veterans, after 84 days of agitation, at the cost of great chagrin and embarrassment on being reduced to a petitionary role in pursuit of a right snatched away four decades ago, was supplemented by the injury of a perfidious declaration of implementation which did not meet substantive demands of the veterans. It only fulfilled the political objective of one-up-man ship (over Congress) - clearly with Bihar elections in view.

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi';s implicitly and frequently made promises of commitment to granting one-rank, one-pension (OROP), and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar';s approval on file of the rightful version of OROP were negated for months.

 The drama ended in an anticlimax with the government outmanoeuvring the veterans by tricking them into thinking that all their demands would be conceded but not showing them the actual draft declaration, thus ensuring that there was no rejection of the declaration before official announcement.

 Moreover, Parrikar had trooped into the press conference along with the three Chiefs to subliminally convey the idea that the final declaration had the Chiefs'; approval. However, the content of his short speech was so contrary to the discussions leading up to the conference that the veterans rejected it within minutes of the end of the speech. The agitation by veterans continues and the long term effects of this sad chapter in our military';s history could haunt the nation in years to come.

The need for negotiations over an issue settled years ago with the employment of intermediaries and parleys as if this was an industrial dispute with unreasonable labour unions, was avoidable, to say the least. The imposition of a negotiated settlement with the veterans has resulted in the remuneration aspect of defence service to get highlighted.

 The long term effect of this short sighted strategy of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is actually pushing what was a fiercely loyal, patriotic and nationalist force to think on mercenary lines so as to safeguard its legitimate rights which have been accepted by Parliament and the Supreme Court.

 If, in future, candidates for laying down their lives for the nation demand assurances of rightful payments during and after active service, the cause would be the present government';s procrastination and harassment of the veterans.

 The sense of alienation and betrayal that has afflicted the veterans since the Jantar Mantar relay fast commenced, has inexorably grown and its effect on the hinterland of our fighting forces is apparent from the growing support it is getting from them. Moreover, a large number of veterans come from families that have more than one generation of contribution to the defence forces.

 Public humiliation

 In the years to come, this contribution from the traditional recruitment grounds is bound to show the effects of what is seen as an act of perfidy. By then, Modi and Jaitley would not be around to be held answerable for having rendered a career in defence forces far less attractive on account of the public humiliation that veterans are being exposed to with each passing day.

 Another long term effect is the reinforcement of an already wide enough civil-military relationship which has deteriorated steadily over the years but is getting some helpful shoves and pushes by the present stand of the government. While it is quite acceptable to the bureaucracy, the growing disquiet among the veterans is now permeating down to the serving personnel, a large number of whom come from military background families (the father of the present Army Chief is a veteran).

 Informal inputs from the social media within the serving personnel bear no good for the future of the morale amongst the services if they see their seniors, ex-commanders and leaders being treated shoddily by an apathetic establishment.

 Perhaps, Jaitley and his bureaucratic bunch presume, based on historical substantiation, that the loyalty of defence forces is an unquestionable postulate. Even the general civilian populace can be forgiven for indulging in the romanticism of holding the belief that the Indian soldier';s legend and narrati-ve are an unchanging fact of life.

But history tells us that loyalty can be swayed by actual or perceived denial of righteous and rightful demands and expectations. The story of Mangal Pandey is not so old as to have acquired a mythical hue; what if a soldier was to question the authority of someone sending him to certain death but denying him and his survivors promised pensionary dues?

 To the serving and recently-retired veterans this statement may sound sacrilegious, and this author hopes that that day never comes when an Indian soldier has to balance his ';service before self'; indoctrination with the government';s current apathy towards his aspirations.

 Witness the lack of any move by the Centre to even approach the large number of veterans on fast unto death, some of whom are on their last, wheezing, septuagenarian breaths. The future tenor and texture of the nation';s defence forces disposition towards the perception of their duty hangs on the intransigence of Modi';s government.

OROP: Article in National Herald on 7 Sep 15
(The writer is a retired Group Captain)


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