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Talking of Today's Soldiers : Tomorrows Veterans

Talking of Today’s Soldiers
Tomorrows Veterans
By Maj Gen Ashok Coomar
The success of team efforts is essentially a function of mutual trust and faith. Faith is the hallmark that defines the armed forces and is an article of faith amongst soldiers. Higher the commander greater is the faith reposed in him.
So when Narendra Modi as a PM hopeful promised One Rank One Pension at a rally of ESM at Bhiwani in 2013 the veteran community across the country took it as a solemn promise because in their reckoning PM is the de facto Supreme Commander of the armed forces. After NDA’s historic win and assumption of office veterans continued to nurture faith in PM Modi conflicting statements by some ministers notwithstanding.
A blow to aspirations of veterans so built-up came with PM’s Man Ki Baat at the end of May 15 when he talked of complications in implementing OROP as according to him there were many definitions of it. He assured that it may take time but the government will find a solution acceptable to all “stakeholders”. This was intriguing as so far there were just two stakeholders – veterans to be satisfied by the government. Who were then other stakeholders? Could they be veteran’s well-wishers? Will satisfying “all” result in dilution of OROP?
These questions came as first jolt to veteran’s trust in PM Modi.
Events following the above statement with the police brutality at Jantar-Mantar on 14 Aug 15 leading up to OROP announcement by RM on 05 Sep 15 are still fresh in memory to warrant recall but what followed since that critical announcement is too disturbing to let-go without analysis.
RM’s announcement of Sep 5 was found un-acceptable by veteran organisations since it did not conform to definition of OROP as given by the Parliamentary Committee headed by B S Koshiary. Main reasons of rejection were: firstly, that instead of highest pension of any rank only average of maximum and minimum pension prevalent in 2013 was to be paid with effect from July 2014. Secondly, instead of granting increases in pension as and when they occurred equalisation was to be done only once in five years placing the veterans at great disadvantage compared to their juniors to retire in future. Thirdly, benefit of OROP was not to be extended to those who were to take pre-mature retirement (PMR) in future though the government had been gracious enough to grant OROP now to existing pre-mature retirees. In effect it meant that nearly 85% soldiers will have to continue serving under their juniors battling daily humiliation or take PMR and suffer galloping inflation not to mention the armed forces being saddled with frustrated oldies!
Disillusioned veterans chose to continue their agitation to press for grant of real OROP and hoped the government will relent sooner than later.
For a few days the print and electronic media continued to cover the turmoil that the announcement had caused though with a discernible tilt towards castigating veterans. As media changed sides chronic amnesia suddenly struck the Ministers and the journos alike as they forgot the single unique reason which qualified the soldiers alone for OROP – truncated career and early retirement in thirties and forties. FM Jaitley discovered that a similar demand from Central Armed Police Forces (who retire at 56 or above) could not be ignored and not surprisingly demand soon followed. RM Parrikar found that 100% satisfaction to all could not be provided thereby admitting the deficiencies in the award. But the government headed by PM Modi continued the subterfuge that OROP had been granted but some veterans were still in agitation-al mode out of greed. PM Modi added another dimension that OROP had been sanctioned at the cost of country’s poor forgetting government’s own indulgence towards politicians and bureaucrats or its profligacy in writing-off PSU losses. Such ludicrous statements were flying in the face of conflicting claims of FM Jaitley that OROP will cost Rs 10 to 12 thousand Cr where as RM Parrikar assessed it to be just Five thousand Cr being 2% of total defense out-lay.
The journos and writers so far sympathetic to veterans now turned against them and flooded newspapers and periodicals with misinformation and half truths accusing veterans of trying to extort OROP from poor taxpayers majority of whom had no pensions at all. These well-wishers of the poor had no problem with “Non functional up gradation” which meant higher wages without extra work, an unheard-off phenomenon, granted by 6th CPC to Group ‘A’ services. Glossing over the manner in which country had been mismanaged and robbed for decades most worthies implied that country’s financial problems would disappear if only OROP demand were dropped!
Another gentleman questioned the army’s lacklustre performance since 1971 war and its record of human rights violations forgetting thousands of soldiers martyred guarding the integrity of the country. He threatened that the government’s attitude, so far indulgent, may change while viewing army’s indiscretions in misusing its lands, clubs etc if the veterans did not confine their activities to their erstwhile profession; whatever it may have meant apart from withdrawing OROP demand.
In its recently released report 7th CPC claimed that they were guided by the dictum “where there is righteousness there is victory” but their indifference was soon betrayed when they acknowledged the services of one DK Rae, a young officer from Defense Accounts for his singular assistance in understanding and determining the pay structure of armed forces. No prizes for guessing why the Commission, while making tall claims about favourable parity with other Group ‘A’ services, had in fact singled out the armed forces for lowering their emoluments and status. Ignoring the extant rules and SC ruling that any disability will be attributable to service, the Commission commented that spurt in pensions was due to in-service-connections which translated into “government taken for a ride by army officers” while reporting by a leading English daily.
And while all this was happening RM Parrikar demanded proof of agitation being non-political!
Can the politics of first reneging from a promise and then spreading myth about OROP be missed? Would a lay person not see a connection between the above events and the government’s stand on OROP? Can veterans alone be blamed for politicking though only at times? Could such an all-round onslaught have been ignored by veterans who fight only to guard their honour? Has public perception about armed forces not been adversely impacted, not lowered the morale of serving soldiers and not diminished India’s stature?
Should PM Modi still expect veterans and the would-be s to still have faith in him and his government?
The above notwithstanding Indian soldier would never flinch from his duty irrespective of what it demands.
As of today the Indian soldier will live to be the Nation’s Pride by staking his all and will continue to consider himself as a non-government servant (For if he did he will cease being a soldier) as described in their respective articles by Lt Gen PG Kamath by Brigadier Narendra Kumar.
But the moot question remains whether this spirit will survive the plethora of ignominies recently heaped upon soldier’s already battered self-esteem and morale?

(The author, an infantry officer commissioned in Mahar Regiment in Dec 1962 has seen active service during 1965 and 1971 wars. An alumnus of Institute of Armament Technology, Khadakwasla, Pune he is a retired Director of Quality Assurance, presently Addl. DG, DGQA, Ministry of Defense, New Delhi)

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About The Author

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Ashok Coomar

Media/Journalist/Author

Madhya Pradesh ,  INDIA

Hails from a middle class family of Lucknow, U.P., educated at Allahabad and Gwalior.  Joined Indian Military Academy, Dehradun after passing Intermediate. Commissioned in Dec 1962 in the Mahar Regiment, Infantry. Saw active service in 1965 and 1971 wars. Retired in Dec 2001 and now settled at Bhopal, M.P.

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