Sustaining unity beyond OROP

The rallies at Dehradun and the hugely successful ongoing agitation in the national capital on Kargil divas shows that support to one rank one pension (OROP) is fast gaining momentum. Currently, the only thing uppermost in the mind of ex-servicemen and their kith and kin is OROP. By dilly-dallying on this one issue the government of the day is playing with fire and is not aware of the deep bonds that exist between serving soldiers and veterans. Besides this, the soldier <g data-gr-id="72">understand</g> that the veteran of today was the soldier of yesteryear and the same fate awaits him. 

With the internet revolution and the hundred-year commemorations of the First World War in Europe and our veterans exposure to these events, members of the armed forces today see the stark reality of how other nations respect their soldiers when compared to ours, saying, “born to fight for the nation and ending up protesting on the streets”. There are emails of soldiers boarding first in all domestic flights in America and allowed to relax in lounges across all airports. All this clearly shows that Chanakya was wise when centuries ago he stated “that the day the soldier has to beg for his salary the king has no right to be called a king”.  

The unity of the ex-servicemen has been born from the fire of the OROP and once anything comes out from the fire it becomes high-grade steel. The movement has not only sustained itself but is surprisingly growing from strength to strength. There is a regular stream of volunteers’ and also, courses, regiments, all sorts of typical <g data-gr-id="75">fauji</g> affiliations are providing oxygen in the form of funds to sustain the movement. The biggest strength is that this unity is spontaneous and no politician has been allowed in. This is our own act of unity. There are various planted stories doing the rounds like <g data-gr-id="83">difference</g> in pay and other stories. There are, however, certain questions that need to be addressed. How and where does the movement carry on from here? Will it flounder once the goal is achieved? 
Therefore, there is a case of sustaining this movement and looking beyond the immediate plans, such that, “one and one make eleven”.  It thus ipso facto  implies that further delays in rolling out the OROP scheme will only strengthen bonds. The organisation will come out stronger, and for a change we ex-servicemen are in a unique position, “heads we win, tails you lose”. Of <g data-gr-id="69">course</g> there is discomfort, but steel does need tempering from fire. 

The basic cause of disunity among ex-servicemen is the political affiliation and fixed charter of various ex-servicemen registered bodies, which have curtailed their freedom of expression post retirement. Keenly studying both the Gorkhas and the ex-servicemen, one has come to the conclusion that unity is the only answer to vote bank politics. All national parties have ex-servicemen cells, and also Gorkha cells. A cell is a place which restricts movement and keeps the person within its confines. If politics is all about representation than 12 to 13 % Gorkhas and 8 to 9 % ex-servicemen in Uttarakhand should have one in every five representative in the legislative assembly and also at the national levels, which is hardly the case.  

The ex-servicemen are thus not united to ask for votes to their causes, thereby suffering. Different states will have different models. Since there cannot be one model, how does one achieve unity? Unity comes from a combination of intangible and tangible aims. The aim is unity while the tangible aims are immediate goals that can be achieved in the short term, like OROP, the increase of excise duty in Uttarakhand by the new liquor policy, welfare of widows, payment of allowances for widows and a host of other issues. The aim is the welfare of the weakest link upwards.

A chain is as strong as the weakest link, thus the weakest link in our chain are three, the “Veer Naris”, war injured and disabled,  and those who retire up to the rank of Havildars.  The larger aim has to be to see how any decision affects the weakest link. The leadership has to be a diverse and loose federation bound together by unity of aims, which are discussed once a year in a collegian format. At the national level, the order of precedence is a burning topic and also, disability pension, the respect at the national level, as seen in other countries, needs to be taken up.  There will be issues that will emerge from the “Seventh Pay Commission”. In addition, the manner in which the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) is running,  our unity at the national level must remain intact. There <g data-gr-id="78">are</g> various pulls and pressure at the state and regional levels. All this needs to be accommodated as long as dialogue is taking place in a knowledge-based sensitive society, wherein ex-servicemen are the leaders in their respective gathering in rural India.   

The veterans’ movement is now at a historical moment and it needs introspection to scale greater heights. There is a lot of unfinished agenda at the national, state and regional levels. The currently registered bodies need to continue, but a united series needs to find a suitable place at national and regional levels to assert unity for common causes in an environment of vote bank politics.

The author is a retired brigadier
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