Intro: There is no plausible excuse to delay implementation of a pre-decided issue for which the PM himself has declared unequivocal support more than once.
A perception has progressively gained ground in the civil society and media as if the demand for One Rank One Pension (OROP) were no more than an issue concerning the 2.5 million Ex-servicemen (ESM) – a mere 0.2 per cent of population with no meaningful vote bank concentration in any parliamentary constitution in the country. Even those favourably inclined towards the ESM’s long outstanding demand tend to view it as a “welfare measure” for the veterans who served through uncommon ordeals and made sacrifices for the country. So, their support for the OROP sprouts from their sympathy for the fauji bhai rather than concern for the national security. The pay-offs of soldiers’ pay, allowances, service privileges and pension are far more significant than just satisfying personal and domestic needs of the military personnel – serving and retired. These tangibles have a direct bearing on the intangible vital assets of the Armed Forces – leadership and morale without which no weaponry or technology, can deliver desired results. Every government action or inaction that lowers the military status and privileges also brings down the morale of the soldiery. As observed by the Supreme Court a few years ago, “pension of the ESM is wages for the services already rendered for the country.” Every serving soldier today also foresees his future as a retired soldier. Therefore, the issue of OROP affects not merely the retired military personnel but also the serving soldiers and thereby the entire system of national defence and security.
The ongoing OROP campaign of the military veterans has been somehow kept sealed from the civilian citizenry of the country. While it is laudable for the organisers not to succumb to political manipulations attempted by Congress and others, it is not understood why they have not enlisted support of the farmers, youth and social cause crusaders which could broad base their campaign and magnify its appeal. From time to time military is called in to help wherever the situation goes beyond the control of the civil administration, be it natural disasters or distraught law and order. The organisers owe it to explain to the nation why upkeep of military morale, dignity and esteem is in the best interests of the country and particularly vital for building a mightier India poised for greater global roles in the coming future.
MG Devasahayam, who participated in the 1962 India-China war and 1965 Indo-Pak war, joined Civil Services and retired as an Additional Secretary. He points out, “As of now I am afraid OROP is being pursued as a military style command & control operation. First of all this brass should realise that OROP is not a military operation to be carried on by issuing orders and getting them obeyed. Also, OROP has far more civilian content than military. It does not merely concern the government but more than that the people at large because it is from their tax-rupee that the additional pensions will be paid”.
Whereas concerns have reportedly been expressed about the cumulative financial burden that would add up to the national defence budget in view of approximately 50,000 military personnel retiring every year, it also needs to be understood that India spends a huge part of its defence budget in importing military hardware which will have to be curtailed without hampering the modernisation programme. The ‘Make in India’ initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one major step to save outflow of defence money and to free the country from dependence upon others for critical needs during crucial times. As an emerging Asian power, India aims to play strategic global roles in the coming times even as its largest land borders with China and Pakistan remain militarily volatile keeping the Army deployed along LOC/LAC and engaged in fighting low intensity conflicts in the interiors. Defence experts predict that by 2045, India shall rank world’s third highest military spender after US and China. Therefore, finance planners will have to explore and find means and methods to rake in more funds for defence through speedy operationalisation of initiatives like ‘Make in India’ and exporting military hardware and technology to friendly countries.
Military in India has been traditionally insulated from the civilian mainstream of the country. Unlike in America, Europe or even China and Pakistan, politicians and civil servants in India have scant knowledge of military matters. There is a need for enhanced inter-action, training and association among civil-military departments and personnel on a regular basis. It is primarily because of lack of knowledge that people tend to assume that upkeep of a large standing Military is an unnecessary burden on the national exchequer.
The primary role of Military is not fighting a war, but to deter and forestall the possibility of a war and, if ever war is thrust upon, to fight and coerce the enemy to cease fighting and accept peace at our terms. That is the ideal that should influence India’s politico-military thinking. The shameful debacle of 1962 was a direct result of colossal political neglect of military advice. Indira Gandhi and her Cabinet wanted the Indian Army to launch the offensive. The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Gen Manekshaw disagreed and prevailed upon the PM and the Cabinet to let him prepare and go for the offensive in end of 1971. The resultant victory astounded the world and catapulted India very high in the comity of nations.
Kargil came as a reminder with intelligence failure, shortage of guns, ammunition, communication systems, manpower, and vehicles and so on. When asked about shortage of weapons, ammunition and equipment, Gen VP Malik, the COAS said, “Yes, we have shortages. But we shall fight with whatever we have.” Thankfully Pakistan had officially disowned its infiltration force and was under the US pressure not to escalate the skirmish.
Not only were demands and recommendations of veterans or Service Headquarters ignored by the government, recommendations as significant as those of the Kargil Review Committee were dumped after just making cursory changes. A confidential letter written by then COAS Gen VK Singh to PM Manmohan Singh leaked to the press in March 2012 revealed how callously indifferent the government had remained towards making up the long outstanding glaring deficiencies of arms, ammunition and equipment of the Army. Official neglect was eating into the fighting capabilities of our Armed Forces. The perception of ‘raw deal’ given to the military by the 6th Pay Commission was getting reinforced by the perpetual governmental indifference. Depleting resources in the face of unabated intrusion of terrorists, heightening proxy war scenario, insurgency and emergency mobilisation in the wake of floods, earthquake and other ‘aid to civil authority’ roles started taking a toll on military leadership and morale. In its cascading effect, it precipitated erosion of basic structures of command – a dangerous development for any military. Faith in higher commanders dwindled giving way to demotivation and demoralisation which manifested through increasing cases of insubordination, desertion, suicides and even mutinous behaviour in certain units. Cumulatively, the malaise was growing into a serious threat to the national security itself.
Thankfully, this degenerative process in the spine of national security stopped after the UPA Government vacated office in May 2014. National security and military preparedness were listed at the top in PM Modi’s priorities as was evident from his first call to heads of SAARC nations, appointment of Manohar Parrikar, known for his down to earth approach and result oriented performance as Defence Minister, Ajit Kumar Doval, the renowned expert, as National Security Advisor and expeditious clearance of long pending defence purchases. PM Modi also visited defence installations, military stations, naval and air bases to get first-hand knowledge and chose to spend his first Diwali as PM with the troops at world’s highest and toughest battle field – Siachen Glacier.
These early initiatives of the PM rejuvenated the sagging morale of military personnel. As months passed, however, the momentum seemed to slow down and expectations of serving and retired military personnel started receding culminating into visible and vocal resentment. While the PM is loaded with onerous responsibilities, his initial thrust lines should have been accelerated through the systemic modes to make the PMs declared policies credible. The bureaucracy, however, did not seem very enthusiastic to speed up in the direction shown by the PM.
There are many court verdicts passed in favour of serving and retired soldiers by the courts, facing persistent delays. Such actions mar the government’s credibility and spread avoidable annoyance in the military and veterans alike. There is no plausible excuse to delay implementation of a pre-decided issue for which the PM himself has declared unequivocal support more than once. “This mute inaction”, fasting veterans at Jantar Mantar complain”, is unlike Modi and has sent the ESM community fuming on country wide protest rallies and hunger strikes after waiting for one year”. Opposition parties are luring the ESM who thankfully are unhappy but not yet hostile to BJP. Any further delay will provide handle to the Opposition to disrupt the coming Monsoon session of the Parliament and to wean the ESM away from BJP. -Col (Retd) Karan Kharb