OROP (One Rank One Pay) has become more of an emotional appeal today as is evident from the manner in which the agitation of ex-servicemen seems to be progressing. This in itself is not wrong since OROP always had an emotional angle to it from the beginning. But what does appear worrisome is the manner in which the agitation is being continued. Today it is more counterproductive than being productive for the soldier. This may sound harsh to the people on the forefront of the agitation but this indeed is a reality check.
One of the key aims of the agitation was to educate the masses about the injustice done to the nation’s armed forces over the last forty years by successive governments. The injustice that was cleverly plotted by the political – babu nexus by playing with the emoluments of the soldier continually over the last few decades without giving him any representation in the various pay commissions and other associated forums. There is no doubt that the aim of the nexus was twofold wherein a reduction in emoluments automatically translated in a reduced stature and prestige for the soldier since the government and bureaucracy measures these attributes primarily based on the emoluments drawn by an individual. So if a Deputy Secretary in a ministry could hardly equate himself to an Army Captain prior to 1973, today he claims to rub shoulders with a Colonel. By implementing NFU for 58 central services in 2006, bureaucracy has ensured that a Brigadier with over 27 years of service will invariably be at a disadvantage to a civilian officer with less than 20 years of service. As far as the bureaucracy is concerned it has achieved its aim by clever manipulations during successive pay commissions with the connivance of the political leadership. Unfortunately the man on the street is not interested in all this.
Is the current OROP agitation sending the required message to the nation? Frankly it would be foolish to assume it is. Ask any normal man on the street and the first comment that he makes is as to why are the Ex servicemen fighting for a few more rupees. This is not surprising. The nation is used to strikes, agitations and representations by different groups of government servants that are invariably for more pay and allowances. OROP agitation too appears to most in the same vein. The fact that a soldier operates under tough conditions, has restricted fundamental rights and spends more than half his service life away from home or that he has committed to lay down his life for the nation unlike any other service does not cut much ice with most citizens. This is primarily because of three reasons. First the general impression in the civilian circles is that the armed forces enjoy a fancy life style where the work content is minimal but enjoyment quotient is very high. Second factor is the misconception that a soldier lives totally off the government since he gets free rations, subsidised liquor and government quarters to live among other perks. Last but not the least is the fact that since the government and administration have never held the military in high esteem, the nation as a whole has also never done so. It is indeed a sad commentary on the understanding of the nation about the professionalism, work culture and the immense responsibility that lies on a soldier’s shoulders. Till this perception is corrected the soldier is unlikely to receive any support or recognition from the common man on the street. It is also true that perceptions cannot be changed overnight or through agitations.
In light of the above is there any sense in continuing with the agitation for OROP in its current mode? If anything it seems to be sending wrong signals to the nation where a soldier is being perceived to be greedy and no different than other government employees who agitate for more money at the drop of a hat. Burning of medals or returning of the same is akin to the return of awards by some pseudo intellectuals who were looking for their two minutes of fame by fabricating the issue if intolerance. Frankly dishonouring medals and decorations is an un-soldierly act and amounts to ‘unbecoming conduct’. Most medals that a soldier earns are without a doubt based on team effort and dishonouring medals amounts to dishonouring the team that helped an individual soldier to reach unimagined heights of courage, valour and devotion to duty in the service of the nation.
There is no point in trying to educate the nation’s citizens on the plight of a soldier whether during service or after retirement. It is a waste of effort since a common Indian has no time for all this. All his energies are directed towards his own innumerable problems that he faces on a daily basis. The government’s stand and approach too is not very encouraging in this regard. If one watched the Defence Minister when he released the notification for OROP recently, it was very clear that as far as he and the government were concerned it was a ‘done’ thing now and the government was in no mood to do anything more. Frankly from his body language it appeared as if he was giving some kind of a dole or largesse to the soldiers and not something that was theirs by right. Such posturing by government functionaries cannot be overcome by an agitation of the kind that is happening at Jantar Mantar today.
Therefore it is time that the present OROP movement does a mid course correction. The next obvious question is what can be done. A difficult question but here are some action points that can be considered. The first two are directly related to OROP and would possibly go a long way to resolve the mess created. The next three points are in the form of long term measures that aim at establishing a soldier’s position in the society and possibly give him the honour that is due to him apart from making the public aware of what a soldier’s life is all about. These action points are as follows:
- The OROP demand has an inherent strength that is not being exploited in the right way. First it has been passed by the parliament and secondly it has the approval of the Supreme Court. If that be so, it is time the Ex Servicemen challenge the government’s notification in the highest court both for its diluted content, delay in implementation and last but not the least for contempt of the court’s ruling. In all probability this should resolve the OROP mess that has been created by the government. Legal experts too recommend this option.
- It is time the three Serving Chiefs start working for the overall good of the armed forces instead of making politically correct statements that are neither here nor there. They must insist on suitable representation in the pay commissions as a start point. They must make a realistic list of injustices that have been heaped on the soldier over the last few decades and then seek a proper redress of the same within the realms of the current pay commission in an emphatic manner, both from the financial as well as the stature angles. These have to be pursued with conviction and vigour of a military campaign with the government. If they do not have the will or the gall to do so, then they do not deserve the high offices they are occupying today.
- The armed forces have to raise the bar as far as honouring their comrades who make the supreme sacrifice in the course of their duty. There is no point in seeking this from the government or other civilian authorities since that will not be forthcoming. If a national memorial to the Soldier cannot come up near India Gate after decades of deliberations within the government, the forces have to act on their own. It is time a suitable site was selected in the Delhi Cantonment that is under the military and a memorial built there that should become the symbol of the nation. Similar sites should be explored in each state capital that has a tradition of sending their youth in the forces and memorials built. Money for such memorials will not be a constraint since over five million of serving and retired personnel will happily contribute a day’s salary towards this cause which should give a head start to any such project. The aim should be very clear. Every such monument should become the city’s number one attraction and a must visit site for everyone.
- All three services must start a youth awareness programme where school children and college youth are given an insight into a soldier’s life and his role in nation building. It cannot be left to National Cadet Corps (NCC) which today is nothing but a big sham. It stopped achieving its goals ages back and today is just another lacklustre programme that the colleges and schools manage without any conviction and sincerity.
- It is high time the services raise the bar for military attributes of honesty, integrity and morality across the board to prevent the gradual slide that has taken place over the last few decades. This will also include reinventing some internal methodologies, procedures and working styles that are more suited to the twenty first century. If that means shedding off some age old legacies carried forward from the British days, then so be it. Organisations that tend to defy changing times often invite more problems if they do not shed some redundant baggage of the past.
The road to seek his rightful place in the society for the Indian Soldier is not likely to be an easy task. Neither the government nor the common citizen is inclined to give him his due. The former lacks the will and the later is ignorant of his role in nation building. In the final analysis it will devolve on the soldier himself to find solutions to his problems and aspirations. The senior military leadership will have to play a major role in this regard. Unfortunately in the recent past it failed to do so and therefore the present problems. Whatever be the situation, one thing is certain that the humble Indian soldier will continue to play his part in nation building – irrespective of whether or not rewards and applause come his way.