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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 39, New Delhi, September 19, 2015

The Dimensions of Veterans’ Disillusionment and Ire

Sunday 20 September 2015, by S G Vombatkere

The Government of India (GoI) finally announced its version of One-Rank-One-Pension (OROP) for military Veterans. This was welcomed only in part by the Veterans, because there were important sticking points which were not included or inadequately included in the announcement. Fortunately, the Veterans who were on fast-unto-death were persuaded to end their fast, but the Veterans’ resolve to remain on protest until the outstanding points were settled to their satisfaction, resulted in planning a “Sainik Ekta Rally” on September 12 at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar.

But reverting to the GoI’s OROP announce-ment, obviously at the instance of the bureau-cracy, it included a hitherto unmentioned stipulation that soldiers who opt for VRS (voluntary retirement scheme) would not be entitled to OROP. When the GoI was informed that there was no concept of VRS in the defence services, the same stipulation was shifted to soldiers who took premature retirement. This has angered Veterans because many soldiers take premature retirement since promotion avenues are severely limited, or because there are problems in distant homes, or they try their luck at some job in civvy street since there is no job assurance on retirement anyway. Today, Veterans are waiting for the GoI’s signed document on OROP since they have been repeatedly cheated and have long since ceased to trust the spoken word of politicians and bureaucrats.

Ekta Rally

It is learned that the GoI had “advised” Veterans not to hold the “Ekta Rally”. But the rally on September 12 was a huge success, with thousands of Veterans from all over India converging at Jantar Mantar, exceeding the expectations of the organisers. When TV crews present were asked as to why the rally was not being screened, on condition of anonymity they revealed that the GoI had “advised” the TV channel managements not to air the event. It has also come to light that buses crammed with Veterans were stopped at the Delhi border to deter Veterans (all old and many infirm) from reaching Jantar Mantar.

It is abundantly clear that the GoI has tried, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to make the “Ekta Rally” fail. But Veterans, even some in wheel-chairs, have spoken with their feet; the discomfiture of the GoI is complete. One Veteran even asked whether the GoI’s strategem of breaking the Veterans’ unity was a harbinger of the days to come. Serious rumblings! And what would be the thoughts of the serving soldier on his cold vigil on the Himalayan and trans-Himalayan heights?

The World Watches

It has already been brought out how apex-scale-pension retired bureaucrat Avay Shukla’s article titled “The Bitter Truth About OROP”, in which he argued that OROP is “inherently flawed”, “cannot be limited to the armed forces only”, and is “neither fair nor possible”, was being gleefully discussed in “Pakistan Defence”. <http://defence.pk/threads/the-bitte...> The whole world, and especially India’s neighbours, are well aware that the GoI’s intransigence on the OROP issue is affecting the morale of the serving soldier who guards our frontiers. However, the GoI, under the thrall of an obstinately self-serving and strategically myopic civil service, appears to be oblivious to the rapidly worsening situation. It has escaped nobody’s attention that PM Narendra Modi, ordinarily a self-confident and loquacious person, has not spoken with Veterans since the agitation began, and speculation of the reason is rife. The unfortunate gap in civil-military relations having widened to a chasm is apparent.

The Veterans’ agitation at Jantar Mantar, starting on June 14, 2015, moving on to relay fast and finally some Veterans undertaking fast-unto-death to force the hand of the GoI to announce OROP, is undoubtedly being watched by intelligence agencies worldwide, and especially by Pakistan and China. Its effect on serving soldiers would inevitably be carefully assessed.

Military Capability

It is well to note that the weapons, ammunition and equipment deficiencies—which were revealed by the then Army Chief, Gen V.K. Singh, to the consternation and annoyance of the UPA Government—have not yet been made up. It is not known whether the National Security Council (NSC) has consulted Gen V.K. Singh, since retired, who is a Union Minister in the present GoI, on this critical issue.

It is wisely said that the quality of the man-behind-the-gun is at least as important as the availability and quality of the gun itself. Indeed, the GoI is commemorating 50 years of the 1965 war against Pakistan, during which Pakistan’s designs were soundly defeated by motivated Indian soldiers using dated arms and equipment pitted against Pakistan’s superior Patton tanks and F-86 Sabre jet aircraft gifted by the USA. But today, 50 years later, the man-behind-the-gun is unhappy due to persistent injustices and indignities heaped upon him over the decades by the bureaucrat-politician nexus. And India’s military capability is further degraded by shor-tages of weapons, ammunition and equipment.

Joining the Dots

It is for the NSC to consider whether the increase in ceasefire and LOC violations by Pakistan, and the Pakistan Army Chief’s belligerent statements, are actually Pakistan testing India’s political will and military capability.

It must be recalled that soon after Narendra Modi assumed office as the PM, he sat cordially with Chinese President Xi Ping on a “jhoola” on the banks of the Sabarmati. At that very time, Chinese troops had made incursions near Depsang-la across the LAC in Ladakh. Today, on September 12, the ominous breaking news is that Chinese workers have started constructing permanent defences near Burtse (not far from Depsang-la), and when the Indian troops objected, Chinese troops have moved in.

One must recall that the attack by China in 1962 began in October, the month when Indian troops begin to experience increasing mobility difficulties in the Himalayan terrain as winter progresses, while Chinese troops have little or no such mobility constraints and are today further advantaged by firm logistics of the railway link to Lhasa. In 1962, as now, India’s soldier was ill-equipped and there was a huge gap in civil-military relations. But today the situation also includes a sense of disillusionment among the serving soldiers, which did not obtain in 1962.

PM Modi, and the NSC which he heads, may have to think and act very quickly to assess the real-time joint Pakistan-China threat. In any case, they would do well to urgently create a single-point-of-military-advice by appointing a military officer as the National Security Advisor (as NSA-External) in addition to the existing NSA who would advise on internal security. This writer hopes and prays that his apprehen-sions of external threat are unfounded.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired in 1996 as the Additional DG Discipline and Vigilance in the Army HQ AG’s Branch. He holds a Ph.D degree in Structural Dynamics from IIT Madras. He is the Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA, in international studies. With over 450 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his current area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.