Even if Prime Minister Narendra Modi announces the immediate implementation of the one rank-one pension policy from the ramparts of the Red Fort tomorrow during his 2nd Independence Day address, he would have lost the basic trust and confidence of stalwart militarymen retired from service and now reduced to dharna at Jantar Mantar and insisting the state deliver on its obligation to them, and to uniformed personnel generally. In a fundamental sort of way, maybe the Modi regime has also lost the confidence of the people that this govt is much different than the one it replaced in May 2014.
It has come as a surprise to many that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has such a tin ear for an issue that cries out for decisive intervention by PM. To every issue there are pros and cons. This is one issue where there are no cons, except the barefaced ones pulled by a succession of Indian governments who have fobbed off the military community with promises for so many decades it seems like a reflex action of politicians. It is not at all the additional Rs 10,000 crore OROP will cost the Exchequer. There’s money enough to cover this expenditure. The problem lies elsewhere.
What’s the “technical” aspects of this issue and their sorting out that defmin Parrikar and the finmin Jaitley have been saying the govt is preoccupied with and which they claim is delaying OROP? Truth be told, its locus genesis is in the differentiated pay scales the British Army imposed with the “Indianization” of the British Indian Army. The principle was established with the KCIOs (King’s Commissioned Indian Officers) who were Sandhurst-trained drawing a bigger pay-packet, with their salaries being indexed even after independence to the British sterling than,beginning in 1932, the IMA-raised officers. There’s also the unresolved matter from that time of the “colour service” — can a youngster who joins the army ranks at 18, retire after the original 7 years in the regiment with full pension? If not, then what can he expect?
In the Fifties, moreover, this matter of earned pensions also segued into the then underway process of deliberate downgrading of the military from the colonial-era “warrant of precedence”. This happened because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s express desire to rid the Indian Army of what he feared was the coup d état virus then eating into the entrails of the army’s partitioned part in Pakistan with General Ayub Khan steadily gaining domination of the Pakistani govt, culminating in the full-fledged martial law admin in 1958.
If Indian militarymen lost, some one had to gain, and it was the civil servants who did — even though Nehru trusted them even less and was contemptuous of the Indian members of the Indian Civil Service — the precursor to IAS. But, unlike Cariappa and that straitlaced uniformed gang who made virtue out of staying aloof, the ICS-wallahs, adept in the art of pleasing whatever masters strode on to the stage, actively stoked the paranoia of Nehru and his sidekick VK Krishna Menon who, by the late 1950s, was also the defmin. The ICS-IAS have ever since happily kept the balance skewed and the military a supplicant by ensuring successive Pay Commissions, while strengthening the superior status of their own lot, widened the disparities both within the military and between the armed forces and the civilian services by turning the differentiated legacy payscales into a “one rank, many pensions”-bhool-bhoolaiyya. Trust the babus to do that.
The political class is complicit in that it never paid attention to the OROP demand, expecting that the soldiers would by habit go home when asked to do so and, in any case, not create trouble. The wonder is that a Narendra Modi, a man of the people (something the Rahul-Sonia Gandhi combo can only dream of), has allowed the situation to get to such a pass that he countenanced a silent and disciplined 60-day agitation by ex-servicmen to be disrupted by the lumpen Delhi Police directly run by his own Home Ministry!!! This is the unkindest cut, I believe, the bemedalled veterans did not expect. It was a tawdry act of a government that seems to be slipping fast into confused inaction and ennui a’la Manmohan Singh’s little lamented dispensation. The Modi govt can only hope that the televised mayhem the police perpetrated on the military elders will not adversely or permanently affect the attitude of the serving armed forces personnel towards the government.