I ACCUSE MYSELF
Look at the photo above of OROP PROTEST by ex servicemen.
My pulse races when I see our soldiers march to the tune of “Saare jahan se achcha” on crisp winter mornings of Delhi down the Raj Path with thousands of Tirangas fluttering all around. My breath comes faster when I follow news of some clinical counter strike by our armed forces along some international border or when insurgents or ultras are struck down in some village or town in Kashmir, Northeast or Punjab. My heart swells in pride when I see footage of our soldiers rushing to take aid to a neighbouring country reeling under a natural disaster or to our countrymen in various parts of India battling floods, earthquakes or other calamities.
Since independence, the pride over self governance has rapidly faded in our hearts. For us, every machinery of the nation state has failed. I consider political leadership corrupt and I have a four letter word – “Netas” – that expresses my disdain for our political representatives. The same is true for our public servants. We have another four letter word for them – “Babus” – a word that was used in utter disdain by our colonial rulers for their lowly Indian clerks. For us, our judiciary is slow, insensitive and the legal system tilted hugely in favour of the “haves”. So we revel in the famous line from the movie ‘Damini’ – “Tareekh pe tareekh…” For us Indians, the three pillars of state: legislature, executive and judiciary have failed us and bring us no satisfaction. We have also rejected the performance of the informal “Fourth State” – the media. We think that is now just a big tamasha.
If you ask an average citizen, they would deride “netas”, “babus”, courts and media but the ONE institution of the nation state everyone considers beyond reproach is – The Armed Forces. If we see true patriotism, it is in our armed forces; if we acknowledge efficiency, it is of our armed forces; if we consider any organ of the Indian government that actually works and deserves the financial contribution of the “honest taxpayers” it is our armed forces; if we think of an organisation that embodies the highest values of any organisation, we do not think of a MNC corporation – we think of our Army, Navy and Air Force. The ONLY organ of the Nation State that gets our undiluted gratitude and affection is our armed forces. Or so we like to say.
In the past few years, we have seen the common citizen backed by civil society come forth into public space and make itself heard to the much hated “netas” and “babus”. The Anna Hazare movement, Nirbhaya march to the Parliament, we have ranted and raved on TV, in newspapers, blogs about the “culture of bans” – against beef ban there, porn ban here, about net neutrality, IPL scam and so many others. We are an active and agitational nation. A land of thousand mutinies! We love to put miniature Tricolours on our car dashboards, do wheelies on mobikes with the Tiranga, put tricolour face-paint. We love to wear our Indianness on our sleeves.
So, on the one hand we profess love, respect and unqualified appreciation towards our armed forces, yet when it comes to giving emotional and representational support to our soldiers, we practice silence of the lambs. When our ex servicemen sit on relay hunger strike asking for better pension, not one of us starts a candle march or night vigils at India Gate or rallies waving flags in support of whatever it is our soldiers are demanding.
Coming to the specific demand for One Rank One Pension (OROP) most of us who shout “Jai Hind – Jai Hind ki Sena” even make the effort to understand the actual issue – leave alone try to understand the mammoth legal, administrative and financial complexities of implementing OROP. I do not see any real engagement in the cause of our soldiers – about whom we all mouth empty praises. Either we go by half baked information dished out on media or are simply not bothered. I was appalled to find several well placed and educated citizens who were not even aware of the OROP agitation or what the term means.
For those still interested in understanding the issue in a nutshell they can read the 2011 Bhagat Singh Koshyari report on OROP submitted to the Rajya Sabha. This is the 142nd report on the matter. Read it on http://www.rajeev.in/One_Rank_One_Pension/Report_Dec192011.pdf
The OROP implementation has only 3 problems:
1. Administrative difficulty: to roll out the benefits for millions of pensioners and calculate exact amounts of arrears for those who have retired more than 30 years ago is a gargantuan exercise for which we do not have the manpower or administrative capacity.
2. Legal implication: the equality tenet enshrined in the Constitution would immediately result in similar demand from paramilitary forces who fight the same battles and die in larger numbers but are less revered since they are categorised as “civil organisations”.
3. Financial constraints: OROP will cost at least about Rs. 8000 crores extra per annum. Some estimate the amount at Rs. 20000 crores for the first year. (1 crore = 10 million)
I don’t see why any of these should be a problem. Capacity to handle pension calculation and disbursement can be built by strengthening Indian Defence Accounts Service / DP&PW.
Our courts are full of really knowledgeable and good judges who can resolve any legal issues that emerge from OROP.
If we can allot Rs 2100 crores for Clean Ganga and Rs 4200 crores for Swachcha Bharat, surely we can allocate Rs 8000 crores for OROP. Of course, we will have to reduce expenditure on several other schemes like Digital India, schemes for girls, toilets etc. We will HAVE to put the requirement of our soldiers above all. It might mean some “sacrifices” in terms of a small 2-3% surcharge on various taxes. But then, don’t we all profess complete respect and admiration for the “supreme sacrifice” that a soldier is prepared to do for us?
But no – we won’t hear our columnist writing emotional articles in support of OROP, we won’t see our civil society activists joining the ex servicemen in their agitation at Jantar Mantar, no candle marches, we won’t see rallies waving the Tiranga. We won’t even be willing to come forward and offer 2% extra surcharge on taxes.
In any home, parents would be most concerned about the demands of their most beloved and best child. If that child is crying in pain or suffering, parents would do everything in their power to assuage the suffering. At the cost of greater hardship for themselves or other not-so-ideal or good children. They certainly won’t start slapping the crying ideal child.
Isn’t that what happened in Jantar Mantar last Friday?
Even for adoption of “Jan Lokpal Bill” there were stories of Indians, NRIS and IIT/IIM graduates, entrepreneurs dashing to Jantar Mantar offering support. Why no such effort is evident in support of our fasting ex servicemen?
There are only 2 possible conclusions:
1. We don’t really believe that our armed forces are the single most important, most efficient and most deserving organisation that deserves whatever they demand in terms of pecuniary benefits on retirement or as pay and allowances. In that case, we are guilty of lying – in public and to ourselves.
2. We do believe our soldiers deserve what they are demanding but we don’t think that is the most important issue to tackle as a civil society. In that case, we are again guilty of lying.
We are certainly guilty of intellectual neglect. I have seen far more active debates in private parties and on social media about things like beef ban, porn website bans, Radhe Ma and countless other matters.
More than a year back, I wrote the article http://sidethorn.blogspot.in/2014/05/why-do-we-put-tears-in-our-soldiers-eyes_3.html on this blog. That was in the era of another political regime. How much has changed today? Can we really blame any political leadership for the delays? When we ourselves can’t be bothered?
As an Indian citizen, I accuse myself of lying and criminal neglect of needs of my soldiers. And I plead guilty. I have nothing to rely upon in my defence.
Individually, all I can do is accuse myself and admit my guilt. I am also going to tie a black ribbon to the mast of the Tricolour I have on my desk in office. I will untie it the day OROP is implemented. I was never into candle marches or vigils but those millions who are, why don’t you start assembling at Jantar Mantar and across the nation in support of OROP.
Or stop mouthing meaningless platitudes for armed forces. Have the guts to tell them what you perhaps actually believe: that the armed forces are just another arm of the nation state who consume the biggest “unproductive” chunk of the exchequers’ kitty. That "we honest taxpayers" pay for their salary and free ration, booze, personal attendants, housing and many other "perks". That it is not just them who matters for the nation – there is the industry, commerce, agriculturists and countless other classes or professions that make India what it is. Say that in public space.
Or do something....anything to support their cause. They matter to us because we matter to our soldiers.
Let's not lie to our soldiers.
Or to each other.