Making of a covenant
Today’s notebook must begin with a necessary disclaimer that it doesn’t purport to be a document against providing one-rank-one-pension (OROP) to the uniform services. The large number of friends and well-wishers that I have among those who have served the armed forces gives me a fair insight of the incredible hardships they face both during their service and post-retirement. However, mere service hardship cannot be made into an argument for asking for pay and pension reforms, especially if the matter goes into litigation. After all Indian military are not a force formed out of conscription and joining the profession is absolutely voluntary. Thus giving the issue emotional overtones has the potential of inviting criticism, which could cascade into derision.
Having made my basic submission, let me now come to the chain of events which has spurred on today’s notebook. I have to confess I was pained at the skirmish which took place between the protesting soldiers and police at Jantar Mantar. However, I was hurt more at the reaction of the onetime soldiers who have now magically morphed into internet warriors. Equating the Jantar Mantar incident with the most painful chapter of last century, as some veterans have done -- Operation Blue Star -- and asking the forces to revolt could only invite revulsion from sympathisers of the OROP cause, who could pity at their selfishness and pray for their state of mind. After all our armed forces are not starving. They are in fact quite well-fed, and if there is a poor impression about their service conditions its due to their own self-deprecation.
The independent report of Xavier Labour Research Institute (XLRI), commissioned by the 6th Pay commission, listed a large number of small and big benefits which the armed forces were accustomed to namely -- Telephones; Newspapers; Children Education Assistance; Leave Travel Concession; Home Travel Concession; Form D/Concession Vouchers; Pension; Gratuity; Leave encashment; Home Loan Subsidy, Vehicle Loan Subsidy; Computer Loan Subsidy; Group Insurance; Medical Facilities; Leave; Computer at home at certain levels; Lower license Fee; Concession in Electricity and Water changes; Free Rations and Free Transport for school going children (Sahayaks).
All this comes at a <g data-gr-id="70">price</g> though. The XLRI report had categorically mentioned that the benefits had been based on conservative estimates, so as not to project an unusually high monetary value. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, the armed forces personnel are also given what is called package for special functions or qualifications and package for special geography. They too go onto add to quite a fat pay packet.
What the report did not mention was the expenditure which the government makes on the professional education of armed forces children and also developing skill among its soldiers and expertise among its officers including sending them to a top notch educational institution like the IIMs which are quite costly as well. Which other Indian government service gives such perks and privileges to its officers? The answer would be none. The counter argument would be that other government services make money through other means. Such arguments cannot be entertained but for the sake of debate, even if they are, there are enough <g data-gr-id="74">evidences</g> of corruption in the all the three services also. However, I still would not begrudge the government if it decides to introduce OROP. It’s a promise Prime Minister Narendra Modi made to the ex-serviceman community which he should keep.
I was, nevertheless, very glad that the Prime Minister refused to succumb to blackmail and did not announce either the amount or the deadline for the OROP on Independence Day. He said in principle he had agreed to it and that he was hopeful of a very positive outcome. A prime minister, who has the moral strength to claim from the Red Fort standing under the shadow of Tricolour on Independence Day that his government was above corruption; should be believed by the ex-servicemen community.
They must realise that the camera and television <g data-gr-id="68">is</g> doing a great disservice to their cause. We are already seeing the big price Delhi is paying for espousing the cause of a movement created by the media. Media espousal of a cause cuts both ways. If you aren’t articulate enough, the chances of the rival running away with the game <g data-gr-id="67">is</g> very high. This was most visible in reports that the newspapers carried on Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech next morning.
The pages were full of reports about his government’s performance and his <g data-gr-id="58">long term</g> vision of Start Up India and Stand Up India. Before my friends who once wore the uniform rush to call us ‘presstitutes’ once more, let me explain to them the difference of grammar which the two mediums follow. Television plays on images and newspapers work on words.
For the lethargic Indian television viewer, the pictures of protesting ex-servicemen displaying their medals provide easy fodder for a story. In the case of the newspaper, it needs a deeper study, a greater articulation and thoughtful dissemination of a news report. News in newspapers is not entertainment, as is the case of television.
Now that the government has shown that it would not be weighed down by the din and uproar generated in television studios, the ex-servicemen leading the protests should focus on negotiations and strike the best bargain with the government. The best deals are struck by trusting the person on the other side of the table while remaining firm on furthering their own cause. However, there is a very thin line between remaining firm and turning stubborn and how to cross that Rubicon is the challenge ex-servicemen face.
(The author is president Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post)