By Misha Dwivedi:
Reports about India’s ex-servicemen being pushed around like common criminals and disrespected in public have drawn large-scale opprobrium and disbelief from all quarters in our country. Sadly, the brave hearts who spent their lives defending our borders have been forced to resort to public protests at Jantar Mantar to create momentum for the One Rank One Pension (OROP) movement.
Ironically, the protestors at Jantar Mantar were deemed a ‘security threat’ with regard to the then upcoming Independence Day celebrations in the capital and there were attempts by the local police to evict them using force. One of the two tents out of which the protestors were operating was reportedly pulled down. People were aghast at visuals of an elderly veteran with torn clothes and a dangling row of medals. Shameful, to say the least. Is this the future of those who serve our country loyally?
The nearly decade-long campaign advocates the same pension for ex-servicemen as those of the same rank who are retiring now. With former officers getting a significantly lower amount than their juniors who retired later, a huge disparity has been created by the system with the older officers getting the short end of the stick. Currently, the pension for retired personnel is based on the Pay Commission recommendations of the time when he or she retired. A major who retired pre-1996 gets 53% less pension than a major who retired post-2006 and a sepoy who retired before 1996 gets 82% less pension than a sepoy who retired after 2006, a significant difference. The government will have to shell out Rs. 8300 crores annually to cover up these gaps which might explain their reluctance in the matter.
With the government ‘condemning’ the current state of affairs (as always) but not taking any steps to rectify the damage (there is no definite deadline set by the Home Minister Manohar Parrikar for the implementation of OROP due to alleged ‘technical difficulties’), the heavy blow suffered by the collective morale of our current crop of soldiers will definitely intensify. The depressing and disgraceful abyss into which the entire movement has descended threatens to create a permanent rift in the officer-jawan relationship with the latter believing that the armed forces leadership has not done enough to pursue their cause.
Rahul Gandhi, who turned up to lend his support to the OROP scheme (in a blatant display of hypocrisy) was asked to go back by the protestors. With the Congress government’s unwillingness to support this scheme during their own tenure, the army veterans saw no reason to give Gandhi an opportunity to turn their woes into a photo-op. There were even slogans chanting “Rahul go back!” However, they embraced Anna Hazare’s support.
Will the government still be able to instill a sense of patriotism in its soldiers and civilians amidst such a sordid scenario as our country’s 69th Independence Day passes us by? The outcome remains debatable. Till then, the peaceful protests in the capital, on behalf of close to 22 lakh ex-servicemen and over six lakh war widows who stand to directly benefit from the OROP scheme, continue with renewed vigour.