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Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Have the OROP protests politicised the Indian Army?
The announcement of grant of OROP was done at a press conference by the defence minister of India on Sep 05, 2015. A long pending demand of the military personnel appeared to have been met. It stirred up another controversy around VRS.
Later though, Narendra Modi the Prime Minister rested all doubts on VRS later at Faridabad rally a day later. This however did not appear to have satisfied the veterans protesting at Jantar Mantar. They have since continued to express their dissent.
What has happened recently on the street at Jantar Mantar for the past 80-plus days is unprecedented. The narrative changed on the August 14. Bishimber, an 82-year-old veteran who had fought the men in Khakis during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars was manhandled by his own country's men in Khakis, "the Delhi police".
The citizens of India have not yet fathomed the magnitude and the scale of the tectonic shift that has taken place at the core. This silent shift that has taken place far beneath the surface appears unseen. The vibrations are not felt thus far.
It touched the nerve of lakhs of tomorrow's Ex-servicemen who still don the Olive Green uniform in service of India. The pain of the push and the shove suffered by Bishimber was felt by all and sundry within the armed forces.
Till that day a vast uniformed majority questioned the unmilitary like conduct by their predecessors. This incident shook that off forcing many to rethink. Today lakhs and lakhs of rupees are pouring in from none other than the servicemen themselves in support of the cause. The ears and eyes of the government ideally should have picked up the sentiment correctly.
A senior officer serving in a strike formation informed me how these protests have become the centre of all discussions within the army. He said generally the feeling across is "now or never".
They feel the protests should continue till such time the government conceded towards accepting 'One Rank One Pension' and stop thumping its chest over the granted 'One Rank Five Pensions'. This common argument resonates all across the cantonments and gives immense strength to those sitting at Jantar Mantar.
A presently serving General who happens to be the General Officer Commanding of a formation said, "The trust between the Govt and the Defence Forces has been eroded to a large extent. The Defence Forces will in their manner and means demand their rightful place, may be in a more forceful manner in times to come".
Another officer, a Colonel doing a higher defence management course down south said, "These OROP protests and the ensuing debate has opened our eyes. How oblivious we were till yesterday. The fact of the matter is that we have been exploited by the political class and the babus because we were good soldiers who never questioned".
Interestingly, a friend of mine who is a country head of a multinational company raised a very pertinent doubt. He said is it not surprising as to why the government has not conceded to the fundamental demand of the veterans.
In-spite of the high pedestal the Indian Armed Forces stand on, they are finding getting public, media and the celebrity support so difficult. Why?
Whatever may be the reason for this lack of support, the fact remains that a civilian counterpart draws a pension three times that of a soldier. A civilian's pension gets equalised annually without any so-called administrative problems as highlighted by Arun Jaitley the finance minister, while justifying delay in announcing OROP.
Going by the Supreme Court ruling, the pension is a payment due for the services already rendered. OROP thus is a justified demand for this payment denied. While the civilians see it as a fight for extra money, the serving and the retired soldiers see it as a fight for honour and equality with their civilian brethren.
Narendra Modi at the Riwari rally in 2013 had probably reset the course of destiny. He rekindled the long-suppressed aspirations of the military personnel who had been demanding equality through the OROP.
And in doing so he had inadvertently underscored their relevance in the overall power play. Jantar Mantar is just one such manifestation.
Let the history judge, nevertheless it is high time to sit and analyse on the policy of suppression started by Nehru towards the armed forces personnel arising out of the fears of a military coup.