In the blockbuster film Border, Sunny Deol’s Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri upset at the constant complaining of Subedar Mathura Das goes on an epic rant. The rant concludes with Sunny Deol stating emphatically that life’s second name is ‘problem’. Sunny Deol’s character was based on the real-life Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri who at that time, was leading just 100 men, and had frustrated a formidable attack by a Pakistani brigade (some 2,800 troops) backed by an armoured regiment of 45 tanks. Major Chandpuri was given the Maha Vir Chakra. His company 23 Punjab won six gallantry awards. The continual portrayal of the soldier as someone extraordinary in Bollywood cinema has in turn distanced the average Indian citizen from seeing men and women in the armed forces as ordinary people with a beating heart and with real life problems.
Sadly it seems the Indian Government too shares this rose-tinted view of our Armed Forces.On the eve of the Independence <g data-gr-id="38">Day</g> an unseemly spectacle has unfolded in the national capital as the government in its haste to celebrate Independence Day has turned a cold shoulder to our veterans demands. Ex-Servicemen have for many weeks now been agitating for a decision on their long-standing demand for “One Rank One Pay”. Faced with the prospect of the protests continuing on Independence Day the Delhi Police today evicted the armed forces veterans from Jantar Mantar.
Quickly realising how this was a walking talking public relations nightmare the Ministry of Home Affairs ordered the cops to go easy. Sadly the damage had been done by then. The image of Delhi Police cops dragging veterans who were conducting a peaceful protest will remain seared in public memory for a while now. This deplorable act of coercion by the Delhi Police came only a few hours after four former service chiefs penned a letter cautioning the President that the ongoing agitation for ‘one-rank, one-pension (OROP)’ could have “grave implications for national security”.
In an open letter to President Pranab Mukherjee, former Navy chiefs Admiral Arun Prakash, Admiral L Ramdas,Admiral Sureesh Mehta, and former Army chief General SF Rodrigues clearly asserted that they wished to focus his attention on OROP.At the crux of the conflict is a simple and extremely reasonable demand.The demand is that the pension for retired army officers and soldiers must be at par with what those of a similar rank get now. Currently, there is a huge disparity, which means a junior officer who completes service now is entitled to a far heftier sum than someone several ranks senior, who retired earlier. In his first full budget last July, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley reaffirmed his party’s commitment by allotting Rs 1,000 crore towards OROP. That allotment has lapsed now and no such allotment was made in this year’s budget.In 1984, a High-Level Committee headed by K.P.
Singh Deo was set up which conducted a thorough study of the problems of ex-defence personnel for the first time. It made more than sixty recommendations. All except two were accepted by the government. And these two were: ‘One Rank One Pension’ and assured post-retirement employment to the veterans. It is sad that thirty years later as we enter our Sixty-Ninth year of Independence we can’t assure the men who protect our country a fair and comfortable post-retirement sinecure. This is an emotive issue which must be addressed at the earliest.