Friday, October 16, 2015

OROP: The Great Divider

By Harsha Kakar

I had written in this newspaper last month (16 Sept), on lessons which we as a nation could learn from our veterans on the manner in which they have gallantly and with all propriety conducted their peaceful agitation, caused national debates and obtained overwhelming support for their cause. Today, I want to highlight the divide that the actions by the Government have created and the manner it would impact the nation in the future.

The movement gained strength post the comments made by the Prime Minister in his election rallies. His subsequent remarks that these comments were made prior to having complete knowledge on financial implications and then stating that releasing the same would be at the cost of the poor, has done more harm than good. His Ministers too have been speaking at cross purposes. The Defence and Finance Ministers’ varying statements have only enhanced the great divide. Ironically, a number of those who are agitating are veterans of the 1965 war, the golden jubilee of which was celebrated recently, albeit without their presence.

For a growing economic power, looking after its veterans who have collectively ensured national security to enable national development is a responsibility, which the leadership should never shirk from. The words of our late President APJ Abdul Kalam while addressing the passing out officers at the Indian Military Academy in Dec 2006 ring clear, “When you young officers are posted to your various units, you should remember that national development and national security have to go together. ”The delay by the government and the contradictory statements by political leaders have created divides between government agencies and the military, which are bound to impact the nation in the days ahead.

Logically and as per democratic norms, the military is to function under political control, however with passage of time this has changed to bureaucratic. Thus differences between the military and the bureaucracy, which had always existed, surfaced. The blame for the delay and the impasse in implementation of OROP logically shifted to the bureaucracy, whom the military holds responsible forestalling and continuously pushing in road blocks to prevent the military from achieving a similar status as them in grade, promotions or pay.

This distrust of the bureaucracy has begun impacting the minds of young impressionable officers and soldiers of today and would only increase with time as they progress in service. The impression that has been created is that the bureaucracy is against the military and can never be trusted. This lack of trust would be clearly visible in the future, when the armed forces at local levels, need to interact and work alongside them in situations requiring aid to civil authorities during strife’s and natural disasters.

For those serving today, there is a strong feeling growing, that they have been short sighted by the political leadership. After all, the individual serving today, is a potential veteran of tomorrow. The political leaders have neither involved the military in any pay commission, nor considered them to be at par with other central services. Further by making contradictory statements, they have alienated the veteran, and in the bargain, the serving soldier. Any divide between political leaders and the soldier on the ground is potentially disastrous for any democracy.

Another divide is the one being created between the military and other central allied police services, who serve alongside them in troubled and tough border conditions along the borders with Pakistan and China. They need to work hand in glove, but the manner in which the government is handling the issue is only creating a divide which could break the harmony and cohesiveness of trust and joint employment.

The words of the Prime Minister carry immense value and weight. Making statements against military demands and its impact on social services to the poor in public speeches would only cause alienation, where none has existed. The masses swear by the military, which has stood beside them in every calamity, much more than any other organization, and been fair to all, irrespective of caste, creed or colour. This divide between the people and the military, should never be permitted to happen in a democracy.

For those isolated from the military and unaware of its ethos and camaraderie, it would be worth knowing, that any soldier functions with immense motivation in the most extreme environment only due to the unflinching trust that he has on three pillars i.e. his peers, superiors and the nation. If one of the pillars of trust is eroded, there would be hesitation or a second thought on acting beyond the call of duty. The camaraderie between all ranks, as it exists today, differentiates the Indian military from the armies of Pakistan or other nations. The officer -soldier relationship in India is the closest; hence the officer casualty percentage figures are also the highest in the world. The way the army functioned in every operation, every war, every instance of aid to civil authorities, could be a thing of the past, unless our political leaders realize, that to play with the sentiments within the armed forces is to play with fire.

The government should realize, that the military is the only true example of unity in diversity within the nation, an apolitical force, which has always upheld the honour of the nation any
time and anywhere it has been tasked to perform. It should never be taken for granted, and the divides which have been artificially created should be broken and parity restored. Delays and giving reasons for the protests to prolong and become stronger and more demanding, would break the tender fabric within the military and with those with whom it is meant to function in close coordination with and this could spell disaster for the nation at a critical juncture.

(The author is a retired Major General of the Indian Army)

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