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When I was commissioned and got my wings in December 1970, I was told that the officers do not discuss two things- politics and pay.
To discuss ither was considered bad manners. I did not.
By the 25th of every month, my pay used to be over and I would somehow survive till the first of the next month. I still considered myself to be rich.
I did not pay attention, when in 1973 the pension of the armed forces was reduced from 70% to 50%.
I did not know that the pension of the civilians was increased from 30 % to 50 %!
I did not even know that it was the IAS which was formulating all these rules.
The thought that it was done after the armed forces had won the 1971 war never occurred to me.
The thought that it was done after Gen. Manekshaw, as popular as Indira Gandhi in those days, had retired never occurred to me.
I never knew that as compensation, a bait- OROP had been dangled for the armed forces.
I was not supposed to think money-I did not.
I enjoyed the challenge posed by my beautiful love – The Seahawk—referred to as ‘Flying Coffin’ by some ill informed guys.
Along the way, I lost some friends in air crashes It was part of the game. Money had nothing to do with it.
I heard about the sailors sharing houses two/three families to a house.
I heard about the waiting list for accommodation being one year plus everywhere. I did not pay attention.
There were the three service chiefs and a host of senior officers out there to ensure that all my problems would be well looked into!
I was happy doing my job.
Life on board the submarines was tough, but we had tough guys to take it on.
Sailing on small ships, big ships, aircraft carrier, temporary duties at short notice, no reservation in the trains-yet you manage to reach for your duty on time, no accommodation in the messes/ships-all these were part of life.
Manage what you can. Crib about the rest if wish to. But get the work done! That was the motto.
Life went on. I was happy in the service.
One day I took premature retirement because I had reached the level of my inefficiency.
The navy gracefully gave me fair amount of money.
And I was entitled to pension-for life. The pension was sufficient for about 40 % of my and my family’s survival needs. For the rest, obviously I had to work.
I was 45 and fit to work for many more years.
For the first time the thought came to my mind-if I was in civvies always- how it would have been? But I was too proud to feel any regret.
The navy had looked after me well.
Those Jawans/sailors and airmen who had to leave at the age of 35 or so, certainly had it tough. But they were all capable of making their lives again.
We all had joined of our free will knowing the pros and cons-isn’t it?
That there was something like OROP- I only heard in passing.Never gave it a thought.
After all if there was something that I should have got, the three service chiefs and the senior officers would have ensured that I get it!
I heard about veterans returning their medals to the president’s office. (The supreme Commander of the Armed Forces never had time to meet those anguished, graying men.) I wondered why?
Then I heard a name-Dhanapalan. Read his story.
The army chief had asked him to meet separately when Maj Dhanapalan asked a question about pay anomaly during one of the presentations. To meet separately-obviously to put him in his place.
Dhanapalan did not go to meet him. Instead he went to the court after retirement.
And court asked that he be paid some lakhs of rupees because injustice had been done to him.
Individuals went to the courts. ESM organisations sprouted all over India.
They merged and divided and then merged again and went to the Supreme Court.
One day, I heard that the Supreme Court had decided that injustice had been done to me! And I was to be compensated monetarily for what the GOI had been cheating me of. My revised pension was to be given to me.
The mirror of my faith cracked a little.
The senior officers could not do it? They had no authority or insufficient will?
What was it that had forced the retired service personnel to go to the courts?
I kept hearing about agitations launched by the veterans. Never went for one.
I was different! I was/am the last defence that my country has got against external threat and internal problems. I could not go on the streets like a common agitator!!
Surely, there were other ways and other senior officers who would ensure that injustice is not done to me or those who come after me.
I heard about a prime ministerial candidate promising OROP in 100 days of his party coming to power. 100 days came and went.
One day my daughter castigated me not going to Jantar Mantar, where a dharna had been in progress for many days.
She asked me, if I shall refuse the benefits which I shall be getting because of the struggle of all the veterans who were sitting on hunger strike at Jantar Mantar?
Out of curiosity I went. Then I went again and again and again. And I changed! I learnt and am still learning.
There I saw Col Inderjit Singh who first took up the OROP issue in 1982. He is more than eighty years old and comes everyday for the dharna in his wheel chair.
And Satbir Singh, who has made this as the mission of his life.
He has been ridiculed, threatened, ignored, but possesses a ‘never say die spirit’. And a widow in her nineties-still waiting for OROP.
On 26 August, Dushyant Dave, president of the Supreme Court Bar Council came with all the office bearers. They pledged support to the ESM and promised to fight for OROP on their behalf, free of cost. They assured us that the Government will not go to the court. If they did, they will lose in the third hearing.
In my visits, the main thing that I learnt was that I was quite ignorant about what OROP was.
And then the thought came to me, that there is a vast majority of ex-servicemen intent on not sullying their image by taking this route- because they are even more ignorant than I am! They have zero knowledge about the issues involved in OROP!
An insidious thought entered my mind, “For forty one years, I and those who were before me, did not hit the streets.
Who got us OROP?” The answer was a painful-No one!
It was apathy by all concerned.
We did not think money and the powers that be, quietly-not only denied us money but also kept downgrading the armed forces. And those upon whom we had been depending - were helpless!
It was announced when the prime ministerial candidate faced a huge turnout of ESM at Rewari.”
Everyday there are 15 or more ESM/ladies on hunger strike at Jantar Mantar.
Hundreds of officers and men are present there every day. I have seen Lieutenant Generals and senior air force officers at the dharna.
Not many naval personnel though. ‘OROP will be announced soon, before the Bihar elections.’ They told me at Jantar Mantar. It was!
It was announced by the defence minister before the Bihar elections were announced and after the ESM made it clear that they would go to Bihar and intensify their agitation.
The defence minister of the country said that those who had taken VRS, will not get the benefits of OROP! VRS??
It was clarified that those who had taken pre-mature retirement will not get the benefits of OROP. A master stroke to divide the ESM!
But ESM retaliated by saying, “We do not leave our dead behind in war-you expect us to leave our living brethren behind!”
And I learnt that at every stage, everyday new strategies were being drawn by the guys sitting in the South Block and the North Block to ensure that OROP is given with as little grace as is possible.
The representatives of the Ex Servicemen have been called many times for discussions. During the discussions, concessions have been sought from them and obtained. And then the powers that be go back and include one more clause detrimental to the definition of OROP.
I heard that the PM had said words to the effect that OROP was being given out of the hard earned money of the poor of this country!
I wonder-out of whose hard earned money the MPs are paid their salaries!!
They waste session after session- day after day complete monsoon-winter sessions are washed off without transecting any business!
There is no mention of poor of the country paying for their callousness!
I was also given to understand that the three chiefs and a select band of the senior officers along with the top babus are already under the ambit of what is called OROP for us. I am an ignorant man-always ready to aplogise for my lack of knowledge.
At Faridabad, the PM reiterated the intention to implement OROP in it’s original form. And that those who had taken pre-mature retirement will not miss out.
They was happiness that the pre-mature retirees will get it. Next day there was a news item in TOI-statement by a babu-‘NO they will not get it.’
Till to date, no denial of this news item from any government source.
Is it possible that a babu can overturn what the PM said? Then I tried to recollect. At no stage had the PM clearly said that ‘ALL’ the premature retirees will get it!
The speech was worded in a way that left scope for doubt.
I also learnt about seven anomalies that still need attention. I do not understand why this is happening?
On 12 September a rally was held at Jantar Mantar. I went for it.
There were thousands upon thousands veterans and ladies present. Was the total number 20,000/30,000? How does it matter!
There were a large number of media personnel/vans present to cover the event.
It was announced from the stage that the government had muzzled the media. Buses had been stopped at the border.
No reporting of the event! It was not reported anywhere. Was the media under instructions to blow up any untoward incident at the meet!
The demonstration has been peaceful-for more than 100days!! I am bewildered.
Why does my own government refuse to give me what is mine (everyone in uniform)!
Why do they refuse to give me what has been agreed to forty three years ago!
Why do they refuse to clear-in it’s original form-what has been promised by successive governments, looked in to microscopically by a parliamentary committee, agreed upon by two-all party parliament approvals, found in order by the highest court of the land and agreed to by the present government.
I was/ am the last line of defence that my country has against external aggression and internal problems.