Non-Sanction of One Rank One Pension is Telling on Indian Army Morale
Background: Distrust of the Army
The Indian army has a history of nearly 200 years and before 1947 was known as the British Indian army. It is a force that made its name in two world wars and in battles for the king and empire all over the world from China ( boxer rebellion), Opium wars to Afghanistan and Tibet( Younghusband expedition).
After 1947, India under Nehru inherited this fighting machine. Unfortunately, Nehru had little comprehension of military power as all his life he had been doing satyagraha or sitting on dharna. In addition, when he came into power he saw the Pakistan army carry out a coup d'etat under General Ayub Khan and overthrow the elected government. This was followed by a military coup in Burma, where General Ne Win, a Buddhist took control of the country.
Nehru with little military knowledge feared a military coup and took steps to avert it. He in his wisdom decided to downgrade the military and deny it latest weaponry. In addition, he took steps to prune the perks and privileges of the officer cadre and downgraded the general staff in order of precedence. He further put in places checks and controls by civilian authority, where all power was taken out of the hands of the general staff. The army was thus reduced to a paper tiger
Reduction of Pension and Demand for OROP
Nehru died in 1964, a broken man as his ill-equipped army was decisively beaten in the 1962 war with China. Large areas of India came under Chinese occupation and Nehru's image as " World Leader" took a severe beating. He became the laughing stock of the world.
Nehru died in 1964, but his successors were no wiser and in the mid-1970's a decision was taken to downgrade the pensions of the army personnel. Earlier the pension was fixed at 70% of the last pay drawn, which was reduced to 50% of last pay drawn. This was a grievous blow to the army as the higher ratio of pension compensated for the early retirement of the soldier. Many soldiers retired at the young age of 36 and with a reduced pension, great hardship was caused.
Another point was that the pensions were fixed and an older retiree continued to draw the old pension which over the years lost it purchase value as inflation and other factors affected the value of the rupee. There was also no mechanism to bring old pension at par with the new retirees, whose pensions were relatively higher.
This anomaly in pension-led to a demand for One Rank One Pension( OROP) so that old retired soldiers could be compensated. The demand required that old soldiers draw the same pension in service and rank as per new retirees.
Do you think OROP is justified
Long Standing Demand and Arrival of Modi
The demand for OROP gathered steam during the last decade. The Congress government took notice of the demand and made some cosmetic approvals, but left the core issue untouched mainly because of the expense.
In 2014, Rahul Gandhi had a meeting with ex-servicemen association and he was convinced that OROP was justified. He prodded the finance minister Mr. Chidambaram to announce OROP. This had an effect and the Congress government accepted that OROP was a necessity and approved it in the interim budget with a proviso of Rs 500 crores.
Unfortunately, the Congress lost the election and the BJP came to power. The BJP leader Narendra Modi eyeing the vote bank of the ex-servicemen and the army started his election campaign with an address in Rewari, Haryana in 2014. At the rally, he announced that OROP would his first priority after he came to power. He continued shouting approval of this demand from rooftops.
Backtracking of BJP and Modi
The BJP won the election and most ex-servicemen as well as serving personnel assumed that sanction of OROP was now a formality. Modi upped the hopes by making an announcement to troops in Kashmir that OROP is approved and it was his good fortune that OROP was sanctioned when he was the prime minister.
However, there were some power centers in the BJP who not only wished to secretly undermine Modi but were not happy to pay a large amount to the army. These men led by Arun Jaitley the Finance Minister and Raj Nath Singh the Home minister had little comprehension of what power politics means and what it means to have an army high on morale in the world polity of nations. Perhaps they need to read the books by Mao Tse Tung and others. but with their limited horizon, they torpedoed the demand for OROP as approved by two houses of parliament and the Koshiary committee.
Modi himself began to have second thoughts and like Nehru earlier thought that just moving around the world is by itself a sign of great power status. He began to emulate Nehru and started to make trips to China, USA France and what not. Nehru came a cropper and Modi may be heading the same way.
Effect on Morale and Agitation by Ex servicemen
The morale of the army has taken a beating. It is wrong to feel that the demand only concerns ex-servicemen because it also concerns the serving soldier who will retire tomorrow. The ex-servicemen mounted an agitation against the Modi government and a maha sammelan (general meeting) was organized at Jantar Mantar on 14 June 2015. A petition signed with the blood of ex-servicemen was presented to Modi.
Unfortunately, Modi and the BJP have shown callous regard for ex-servicemen and not bothered that men who are 70, 80 and 90 are sitting in the hot sun asking for a legitimate right. This is criminal neglect and shows the callous nature of this BJP government.
The government acted in a perverse way and at the fag end of 2017 passed an order through the Green Tribunal to oust the Ex-servicemen from Jantar Mantar. They have now been thrown out.
The Role of the General Staff
No discussion on this subject can be complete without mentioning the role of the service chiefs. It is not understood why, but the fact is the general staff has not been able to put any pressure on the government. It started with General Cariappa whose designation was changed from Cin C to Chief of Staff and he accepted without a murmur. Throughout history, the general staff looking for plum postings after retirement has towed the government line. One can't forget that the earlier army chief accepted a written order from a Joint Secretary. He was the infamous general Thapar who was out of his depth during the Chinese attack.
The present army chief General Rawat, appointed as Chief by superseding two senior generals is content to hug his chair. He has not exerted at all for in case he had put his foot down the agitation would not have lingered on.
The situation is snowballing and its about time the government addressed the issue. One shudders to think what will happen to army morale if this is delayed longer. One hopes Modi will see reason and sanction OROP without delay. It's up to Modi to make a mark in history or go the Nehru way.
The government has finally sanctioned a moth-eaten OROP. It's not OROP but a marginal increase in pension and the basic findings and recommendations of the Koshiary committee appointed by Parliament is ignored. Can Mr. Modi explain why?