One Rank One Pension: The Web of Incompetence of the General Staff
The Build up
Recently, I have read some very erudite articles by very learned officers of the armed force on the subject of OROP or One Rank One Pension. What these worthies have written is true and there is no doubt that the Armed Forces have been discriminated against to a great extent. There is also no doubt that right from the days of Pandit Nehru, the Indian armed forces have not been given a leg to stand on and the general opinion of the civil administration is that the armed forces are a needless anomaly has been allowed to prevail. I wonder how these men can propel India to a position of pre-eminence with such an approach.
India must be the only country in the world where a President of a sovereign head of a republic, calls for the armed forces to be disbanded. This is exactly what Dr. Rajendra Prasad the President of India proposed in 1955. He was of the view that the Armed forces were an unnecessary appendage and the border could be manned by policemen.
This statement of Rajendra Prasad shows the mindset of the political leadership, who are easily swayed by a civil servant nexus that would like to appropriate all powers and perks to itself. Unfortunately, the governments of the day have succumbed to fallacious and rhetoric arguments of this civil servant lobby, intent on down gradation of the armed forces and up gradation of their perks and privileges
Downgrading the Armed Forces
There is a long litany of complaints against the governments in power right from 1950, but the decision in 1973, to reduce pensions of the armed forces from 70% of the last pay drawn to 50% and simultaneously raising of civilian pension from 33% to 50% must take the cake. The sad part is that for the next 42 years this anomaly was persisted with and successive governments thought it fit to sidestep the issue of armed forces pay and allowances, smug in the belief that nothing will happen and the armed forces with swallow everything.
In a way, the government was right as the top brass of the armed forces let down the men they command and I have it on record that at no time did the Chiefs of staff put their foot down on any matter connected with this loss. I have read that the “tallest soldier" Field marshal Maneckshah been around, this downgrading of pension would not have happened. Are these writers talking facts? The fact is Maneckshaw was beholden to Indira Gandhi for being made the army chief in preference to Lt. General Harbaksh Singh who was earlier announced as Army Chief. Thus he was personally beholden to Indira Gandhi and the Congress party. In any case, he as COAS did not put up a single proposal to further the careers of the army officers and men. He was just content to bask in the glory of a “great victory” over Bangladesh, the plan for which had been worked out by burning the midnight oil at Fort William by the Eastern Army Commander Lieutenant Jagjit Singh Aurora.
Failure of Top Brass
The Civil admin and the Congress led by Indira Gandhi felt that the armed forces must be "cut to size”, hence this proposal of reduction in pension was made. Maneckshaw was very much aware of this but he did nothing. In fact, he himself was in the doghouse as Indira Gandhi felt that he was “talking” too much and making intemperate statements.
The reduction in pension was effected when the Army Chief was General Bewoor. His case as COAS had been pushed for by the then defense minister YB Chavan and obviously, this COAS allowed the proposal to go through. I wonder why we can’t call a spade a spade and fix the fact that it was the complete apathy of the Chiefs of Staff of the 3 services that allowed this proposal to go through. The sad part is that the armed forces accepted this without a ripple as they did many other decisions over the last 4 decades. Even a simple concession like D Form for train travel was restricted by the pay commission and the Chiefs just accepted it.
If one reads the foremost authority on statecraft Chanakya, he does mention that the people get the government they deserve as they tolerate it. I would like to extend this and extrapolate it to the armed forces top brass and officers in general. The armed officers themselves at all levels have not been in favor of ranks for everybody. A few selected officers would like to hang on to their privileges and see that others do not get them. A case in point is when Venkatraman was defense Minister 3 decade’s back. At that time, he had proposed for a full colonel rank in 16-18 year for all officers. Unfortunately, who turned it down, but the Chiefs themselves? I recollect that many Lt Colonels/Wing Commanders who were selection grade were not happy that all should become colonels. Nobody can deny this, so I fail to understand the logic of blaming the IAS lobby for everything.
Many officers have still not got over their phobia of ranks being given to all and sundry. They would still like the pyramid structure that stifles the forces to continue. This is the 21st century and most of these old fossils having spent a lifetime working to become a colonel can’t accept that all officers will retire as Major Generals. What’s wrong with it? People talk about command and control. The fact is nothing will happen except that the government can be beaten at its own game.
Issue of OROP
Coming to OROP, it is directly linked to rank and once the ranks are upgraded, the OROP demand would have been redundant, but then old pensioners have to be looked after. Who is responsible? Is it the IAS cadre or our own top brass, who sat in chairs like fossils in the hope that they will get an ambassadorship or governorship and acquiesced with all the machinations of the civil servants? What stopped the army chief or other chiefs of Staff to put their foot down at any stage, resign and announce the reason for a conference? This requires guts and that is what these men lacked.
When I read the articles, every word of which is true as to how the government and the IAS lobby cheated the armed forces, I can only smile. How did it happen? It happened because the army top brass themselves were not too keen on it and thought of their own skin and prospects. The welfare of the soldiers and men is dammed. These long litanies of complaints against the government and the beurocracy are valid, but to what use when our own black sheep commanders never had the guts to face the government. The fact is that right from the time of Cariappa and Rajendrasinghji, when the first degradations started and Sam Manekshaw the chiefs have been men of straw. But they themselves cannot be blamed as the entire top hierarchy of the armed forces was itself afflicted by a thought of its own power and privileges. This is a sorry state, but there is no solution.
A look back in history will show that when Cariappa and later Gen Rajendra Singhji were the commanders the first downgradings took place when Nehru abolished the post of Cin C. There was not even a murmur. The fact is FM Cariappa was beholden to Nehru to be made the chief by superseding Lt Gen Kulwant Singh, so he could not put his foot down. Could he?
I will add that my Uncle, Father and self-served the Armed forces of India for over a 100 years and I hope I can write this.
Latest on this
The Modi government broke the jinx and thanks to an awareness campaign launched by general Satbir Singh acceded to a partial sanction of OROP in the form of a one time increase. But the pristine OROP as approved by parliament has not been sanctioned. No explanation is given why it is not sanctioned and sadly there are an entire lot of retired senior generals and the present COAS who feel no pressure should be put on the GOI for the pristine OROP as approved by two houses of the Lok Sabha. It beats the imagination of the aged veteran who may in time to come go to Valhalla the land of the Gods.
The matter is before the Supreme Court but this is neither here nor there as the GOI has made it amply clear that nothing more will be done. What next ?