Dear Mr Prime Minister,
I just came across a piece of information via ‘What’s Up’ messaging that back room talks on grant of ‘One Rank One Pension’ (OROP) have failed since the ex-servicemen delegation did not accept what was being offered. I always understood that back room talks were necessary to resolve matters that were invariably not honest and straight in character since in such cases the modus oprendi always involved some wheeling dealing or give and take. The fact that a simple thing like OROP needs back room talks does come as a surprise to me, particularly since it is for the armed forces. All my life I had always understood that armed forces were miles away from such devious means since everything related to forces is invariably a straight line in character. Frankly I am angry, surprised and a bit sad, all at the same time, at the twists and turns that the issue of OROP is being forced to navigate.
I am angry primarily at the attitude of the government that includes both the political leaders involved in the decision making and the ‘babus’ who are responsible for finding an acceptable and sincere solution to this over forty year old saga. The anger is more directed at the leaders who have time and again given assurances to the ex-servicemen regarding their support and commitment for implementation of the OROP. Many of these leaders, that includes you Mr Prime Minister, announced many times in last eighteen months that OROP is a soldier’s right and the nation owes it to him. One wonders why then the government is dithering on taking a decision on the same despite your being in the chair. I cannot for a moment think that despite your desire for the same, the concerned ministries are unable to find an acceptable solution and implement the same. Knowing your penchant for getting things done once you are convinced of the same, I fail to understand why OROP is still languishing and not seeing the light of the day. Is it because either you are not convinced of the need for OROP or you are not concerned since it has very little political mileage to go with it? Whichever of the two it may be, it does raise a lot of uneasy questions in many minds about your sincerity to a cause and the esteem in which you hold the armed forces of the nation, your public pronunciations notwithstanding.
Why am I surprised? Well I am surprised at the attitude of the government as a whole towards the most reliable and nationalistic resource of the nation that never fails the nation. Be it internal threats, calamities, disasters or any external threat from across the borders, the three services have always been up there to meet and exceed the nation’s expectations. Successive governments have denied them the required wherewithal that is essential for them to carry out their role to their full capabilities. Yet, invariably the soldier has made up for this shortcoming with his commitment, zeal and courage, often at grave danger to his own self. This despite the fact that over the last six decades since independence the stature and emoluments of these brave men have been continually reduced, both by design and deceit, by the very people in power who should have actually been protecting the same. Unlike Congress party, BJP had always advocated a strong military and full support for the soldier and his family. But once in power, it is sad to see that BJP too has been left wanting in this regard. Is it not an irony that the government could implement Non Functional Upgradation (NFU) for all director level officers across 58 different Group A services without much ado but it comes up with all kinds of excuses when it comes to OROP for armed forces?
The sadness stems from the fact that indifference of successive governments and in particular your government has forced the otherwise disciplined soldier (ex-serviceman) to come out and protest on the streets. This development may not look very alarming to a politician or a bureaucrat. However a military mind is likely to see this as a very undesirable evolution in the overall interests of the nation and the future of its armed forces. It may be prudent to remember that this is not a protest by just ex-servicemen alone since today’s serving soldier will be an ex-serviceman tomorrow. Therefore OROP has to be viewed as an issue involving all soldiers, serving or retired. The very thought that a serving soldier too may get involved in the demand for OROP is indeed not a very welcome thought, but then neither you, Mr Prime Minister, nor I can predict the future.
I really wish the ex-servicemen did not have to form labour union type organisations and take to the streets to demand this legitimate basic right that is dictated solely by their service conditions. Unfortunately they have been forced to do that due to the apathy shown by the government. In principle I think the onus was on the Chiefs of the three services to have seen this through, but unfortunately most went home without getting involved with the issue and the current three do not seem to be throwing their might behind it for reasons best known to them. Somehow most Chiefs seem to have forgotten that they are leaders not only for the serving soldier but also for the retired soldiers. May be they need to be reminded of that age old saying ‘once a soldier, always a soldier’.
Can you, Mr Prime Minister, correct the situation, if not for the soldier, at least for the sake of the future of the nation as a whole?
Lt Col Saroj Chadha (Retired)
Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.