The bitterness felt by retired defence services personnel over the crucial One Rank One Pension (OROP) issue was an unenviable inheritance of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from a host of governments over past three decades. The previous governments had done practically nothing to redress the grievance of the veterans regarding lowly pension rates.
Although the principled stand of BJP on the issue had been well-known since even before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, the retired defence services personnel resorted to protests and vociferous outbursts of outrage over the continued indifference by the successive governments over the years. They also resorted to a virulent attack undeservedly mounted on the Narendra Modi government.
The NDA government’s action in the matter had been characterized by the measured steps characteristically taken in an unhurried, yet steady pace. It had warranted a close examination of the financial, administrative and legal aspects, kept in cold storage earlier.
The impatience of the veterans, who felt there was hardly any forward movement in the matter, grew by the day. They were instigated by the Opposition parties with an axe to grind and a highly irresponsible section of the mainstream media. To make the matters more confounded, the layman wondered over the apparent lack of action despite promises on the part of the government.
Eventually, when the NDA government announced its momentous decision to implement the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme, there was a mixed response in store. While the government’s decision came, by and large, as a welcome relief measure for the veterans’ camp, there were discordant notes and murmurs of discontentment over the nitty gritty too. And with it, although considerably scaled down, the bitterness and rancour have refused to die down.
Now that the storm has blown over with the government’s announcement, where is all the jubilation? What has stopped the Opposition parties and the more difficult sections of the mainstream media from congratulating the veterans and complimenting the government? Why are we still sore and sulking? What are we still fretting and fuming about?
The situation reminds an impartial observer of the classic Indian parable of a bunch of persons with impaired vision touching and feeling about different body parts of an elephant and trying to describe the animal in totality. The Opposition parties, for instance, had absolutely no concern for the enormity of the issue or the intimidating nature of the challenges ahead in implementing OROP, given the ground realities of the nation’s economy.
The Congress party and its allies, which had been in power for most of the period during the last three decades of the pendency of the issue, had kept OROP on the back burner. Now that they are themselves in the political wilderness, they are clutching at straws in the wind for dealing a broadside at the NDA government and found in the OROP issue a handy political weapon.
The stance of the Congress and its allies in the matter is not based on any political or ideological conviction, but it is totally pure and simple political opportunism. The hollow ring of their claims has, however, been too deafening for the people not to notice. Consequently, the Congress and its allies stand exposed in the eyes of the masses for not only doing nothing when they were in power but also for underwriting the NDA government’s creditable performance.
For those sections of the mainstream media given to playing up issues for the sake of sensationalism, the issue is still a burning one. Countless numbers of columns and blogs have been written about how niggardly our soldiers are paid during their service and post-retirement in comparison to their counterparts in developed countries such as the US, UK, France and Japan. Such columns and blogs have also ranted about how a nation, which does not pay its Army well, has no moral right to send it to fight wars.
Our soldiers not only fight wars with the enemy across the border, but are also called in to help with relief measures whenever there is a natural disaster at home and, at times, in a neighbouring country like Nepal. All the more reason why they should be treated like the real heroes they are and all their demands met! But such comparisons are unwarranted for obvious reasons such as economic viability, the nature of duties performed, etc.
Besides, India has never sent its troops abroad to fight wars except for peace keeping operations as part of the UN Peace Keeping Forces and the only exception being the brief role as Indian Peace Keeping Forces in Sri Lanka during Rajiv Gandhi’s premiership.
India’s defence budget is a whopping Rs 2,50,000 crore per year, in addition to which the retired defence services personnel are paid Rs 60,000 crore every year by way of pension. With the announcement of OROP, an additional annual expenditure of Rs 12,000 crore is added to the defence outlay.
These are not just statistical figures but the kind of price that the nation has topay for safeguarding its frontiers from external aggression – during times of relative peace, with countless numbers of border incursions thrown in! Guarding the borders along a harsh land terrain of 15,200 km and a 7,517 km long coastal line, is undoubtedly no mean task. It requires maintenance of astanding army with 1,325,000 active front line personnel and 2,143,000 reserve personnel.
For the people of the country, meeting the demands of the defence services personnel, who are an eternal source of inspiration and symbol of patriotism for the crores of awestruck people of the nation beholden to the heroic soldiers, is not only a matter of sentiment and passion but also a means of redemption of its gratitude. In such circumstances, pragmatism tends to take a back seat.
The veterans are still protesting over the perceived inadequacies of the terms of the scheme like the periodicity of the revision of pension rates and the rates of pension. Furthermore, the month from which OROP becomes effective is July this year. The protestors are demanding that the scheme be implemented with effect from April this year.
How dramatic, if not devastating, an effect will the spiralling costs of implementation of OROP to the complete satisfaction of the protesting defence services personnel, have on the country’s budget? Where can the line of distinction be drawn between different government services in applying OROP? Are the people of the nation ready to take on additional taxes in future budgets to meet the demands of OROP? In the clamour, has the nation forgotten all about the droughts and famines and the consequent hardships and suffering of the farmers all over the country?
How far is our nation prepared to go to meet the demands of the defence services personnel, law enforcement agencies and similar workforce in the government machinery without compromising its obligation to other economic and social sectors? Is the nation not committed to the basic tenet of good governance enunciated by Narendra Modi before and after the Lok Sabha 2014 elections – less government and more governance?
What is obvious, in any case, is that the nation should collectively decide its response to the culture of protests, demonstrations and rallies, and not leave it to the government which is meant to give clean governance which, in turn, brooks no interferences. The nation should not buckle under pressure. Nor should the government allow itself to be sucked into the quagmire of non-developmental expenditures.
Having traversed thus far, it is probably time to bring the issue to a swift conclusion and move on in quest of productivity and progress with no interferences, a condition very vital for good governance.