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Sunday, January 4, 2015
Parrikar’s Strange Arithmetic Leaves Soldiers Shortchanged - By Jay Bhattacharjee
Published: 04th January 2015 06:00 AM
Last Updated: 03rd January 2015 09:52 PM
There have been innumerable definitions of politics since societies and countries started their experiments of governing themselves. Alexander Hamilton’s assessment, however, has stood the test of time and remains ever relevant. Hamilton, one of the founding parents of the US, among many other achievements, pithily remarked, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”
Watching the tortuous saga of the decision-making process on Raisina Hill on the issue of granting One-Rank-One-Pension (OROP) for the nation’s armed forces, any observer would be tempted to remind India’s two top decision-makers of Hamilton’s adage. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and one of his key Cabinet colleagues, Raksha Mantri (RM) Manohar Parrikar, freshly anointed to this key position, need to be told some home truths, though this writer, for one, finds it rather painful to do so.
To start with, Modi made OROP one of his key election promises as early as in August 2013. Thereafter, OROP was featured in the BJP election manifesto and the Prime Minister has, in recent months, repeatedly assured the armed forces and the country that this much-needed policy would be implemented soon. When Parrikar’s appointment as the full-time defence minister came through a few months ago, India heaved a sigh of relief, since the short-lived experiment of having Arun Jaitley as a part-time RM was an unmitigated disaster.
In addition, Parrikar came to Delhi with a well-deserved reputation as an effective and above-board CM of Goa. He was said to have been a major figure behind the resurrection of the BJP in the western state. Many incidents of his no-nonsense style of working and his spartan conduct in public life (for example, taking a regular bus from the airport terminal to the aircraft, along with other passengers) were public knowledge and contributed to expectations that he would be the proper and effective RM that the country and its military were looking for. Eight years of A K Antony were more disastrous for our armed forces and defence sector than anything Pakistan and China could have ever hoped.
There is, however, something about the air and ambience in Delhi’s Raisina Hill (with its commanding height of all of 50 feet) that brings out the worst Faustian instincts in any human being. And, here, we are being very charitable to the RM Parrikar. To set the record straight, it was Jaitley who dropped the initial bombshell during one of his periodic sojourns in South Block, where the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is housed. He grandly remarked that full OROP was not possible. Before, the veterans, who had gone to meet Jaitley to press for this decision, could recover from the bombshell, Jaitley had disappeared.
Then came Parrikar’s bizarre foray into Class 10 arithmetic and his recent enigmatic pronouncement at a media conclave that only “80 per cent of OROP will be paid… because there is never 100 per cent in everything”. This homily would have been appropriate in a Philosophy 101 course in a B-grade campus, but certainly does not behove the nation’s RM. One could have given Parrikar the benefit of doubt in this faux pas by blaming the babus and factotums in the MoD, who are scraping the bottom of the barrel to deny a most legitimate demand of our armed forces. Parrikar, however, has made no attempt to either withdraw his egregious statement or clarify what he meant.
It was left to one of the country’s most distinguished soldiers, Lt. Gen.(Retd.) Harwant Singh, to write (with that innate dignity and eloquence that only our aggrieved warriors can do) that “a concerted and sustained effort has been made, since Independence, to denigrate the military and strip it of honour and pride.” As part of this lunatic exercise, and to add insult to injury, the bean-counters in MoD are now periodically coming up with more and more concocted figures of the likely cost of OROP to the national exchequer. These fabricated estimates are gradually being increased, so that both the public perception and the politicians’ reactions are adversely manipulated.
Does the RM really think that we will buy the idea of an IIT alumnus not grasping the simple arithmetical sleight of hand that the babus are foisting on the nation, its RM and its polity? This is not quantum statistics or rocket science we are discussing in this debate. Many distinguished warriors in the armed forces, also trained in engineering and mathematics like the RM, have come up with legitimate and verifiable figures that seem to elude the RM. And to add to South Block babus’ worst nightmares, any number of financial analysts in the country will be honoured to assist the RM (pro bono) to arrive at the right numbers.
And, finally, Mr Parrikar, a venerable and honourable civilisation like ours does not bargain with its warrior defenders. A PM and his party must deliver on a sacrosanct electoral promise. Your job is to ensure its full and speedy implementation. Period. email@example.com