Uniform Woe: ‘Modi’s OROP is a betrayal'

Four years into the Modi government, and some promises remain unfulfilled. The equalisation of pensions of soldiers of same rank and same length of service, or OROP, remains one, according to a section of ex-servicemen who have been protesting against the NDA government’s version of its own campaign promise. Lokmarg met Major General Satbir Singh, SM (Retd) to find out what these soldiers are so upset about:  Major General Satbir Singh is a disappointed man. But he is far from being dispirited. “We have been betrayed by the Modi government,” the 73-year-old thunders, moustache bristling as his usually gentle voice turbocharges instantly to an intensity that could reverberate across a parade ground. Or a battlefield. Because battle has been joined. The motto of the Indian Army’s Artillery arm that the general was commissioned into is ‘Sarvatra Izzat o Iqbal’—Everywhere Honour and Glory. That is the objective. “We have been thoroughly let down by the people we trusted and supported,” the retired officer reiterates in the office at his home in one of Gurgaon’s tony residential sectors. There’s a heatwave on, and his part of the millennium city is experiencing yet another power cut, but there’s no stifling this man, now the leader of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM). The general has cause, for he was there, on stage at a massive rally in Rewari with the great challenger Narendra Modi. This was on September 15, 2013. Three hundred thousand ex-servicemen were there too, cheering, as the man who would be Prime Minister promised to sort out their pension mess. OROP—One Rank, One Pension— was the catchword that made it to the headlines and the national consciousness in that campaign.

What is OROP?

  • OROP means one rank, one pension; it follows from the officially accepted definition, that uniform pension be paid to Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in rates of pension to be automatically passed on to past pensioners.
  • OROP existed since Independence in 1947 till it was ended in 1973 by the Indira Gandhi government.
  • Ex-servicemen and their kin account for about five crore votes; the Congress-led UPA tried to implement OROP in February 2014 but that went into cold storage as soon as elections were announced in March that year.
  •  In November 2015, when the NDA government released OROP, it fell short of what ex-servicemen had been demanding. According to Maj Gen Singh, the OROP announced by the Modi government is essentially a one-time increase in pension and violates the basic premise of the accepted definition. Besides, he says it has a cascading effect on future pensions and will not do away with the fundamental defect in military pensions.
  • The anomalies in the Modi government’s OROP are: using 2013, and not 2014, as base year for refixing pensions, the refixing of pensions according to an average figure for rank and service and not the highest, revision of pensions every five years instead of every year, and payment of revised pensions from July 1 2014 instead of April 1 2014.
Almost five years later and four years of Modi government after, there’s been an OROP, but not in the way it was sought, and not in the way it was incorporated into the covenant of achhe din that the Bharatiya Janata Party made again and again with crores of citizens. What did happen was, first, an inordinate delay in announcement of OROP by the Modi government. The government was sworn in on May 26, 2014 and approved OROP in the budget that followed that July. As late as December that year, Rao Inderjit Singh, junior minister of defence, reiterated the accepted definition of OROP in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha. Despite this, the government continued hemming and hawing, and ex-servicemen began their protest at Jantar Mantar on June 15, 2015. On August 14, a day before Independence Day, Delhi Police cited security reasons and tried to evict the protesters, including old retirees and ex-servicemen’s widows. The action generated severe criticism from ex-servicemen countrywide, including a letter to the President from four former service chiefs who called it a “dismal spectacle”. The next day, Modi spoke from Red Fort, saying in his speech that the OROP issue was “pending”. It still took the government till November that year to implement its OROP scheme that was unacceptable to the retired soldiers — simply because it did not conform with the government’s own stated definition. “We have been systematically degraded and ill-treated, starting with the action of the Indira Gandhi government in 1973 to drastically reduce pensions of retired soldiers. Since then, the men who have served their country in the best possible way have been given the worst treatment and denigrated vis-a-vis their civilian counterparts who continue to keep their nests well-lined,” says the general. The movement continued to prick the government. In October last year, there was another attempt to clear the ex-servicemen from Jantar Mantar, a National Green Tribunal order prohibiting protests at the monument the pretext this time. Lathis were used freely; many of the women were pushed around. Senior officers like Major General Singh—who called the action a “surgical strike” at the time— were among those manhandled. In what could have been the ultimate insult to such a proud Sikh, his turban almost got dislodged in the melee unleashed on the peacefully protesting ex-servicemen and their kin. It’s not just about pensions, the veteran points out. “OROP is only one of our four basic demands. The other three are establishment of a commission for ex-servicemen, creation of options for a second career because soldiers retire much earlier than civilians, and a war memorial at India Gate.” The OROP protest may have gone missing from the mainstream media and excitement-craving TV channels. But it’s not over. “Our struggle for honour and our rights will continue. If I die, there are others who will step into my place. We have second, third, fourth ranks,” declares Major General Singh, who’s added the recent decision of opening up cantonment roads for civilian transit to his campaign for honour. Considering the number of ex-servicemen across the country and the local impact they have, these are ominous words indeed for the BJP-led government one year before the next general elections.]]>

India’s Tahrir Square (Jantar Mantar) on a Sunday

A typical protest at Jantar Mantar[/caption] Stop the Swears: An abandoned shanty, with a lone poster that reads “ Stop swear words for sister/mother” A noble thought; but you wonder if setting up a tent on Jantar Mantar will have the government enact a law in parliament. Or will it change one of the favourite habits of Indian men, besides ogling and brushing past women, spitting betel juice or using walls as open air urinals. Protest against Jaypee Builder: A group of educated and affluent people in black tee shirts and jeans are holding a high decibel protest against prominent builder Jaypee Group. Like in numerous other builders operating in Delhi-NCR region, the group promised delivery of flats in 2-3 years to buyers and took 90-95% money. With per apartment cost anywhere between 25 Lakh to 2.5 crores, there was a massive investment by 35,000 buyers. And now after 5-7 years the projects in Wish Town (a massive independent sub-city with numerous apartment projects), the buyers are still waiting. They clap and raise high pitch slogan against the Jaypee group. A photographer takes their photos, which he offers for sale at Rs 50 per print after an hour. After impassioned speeches and slogans that the enterprising middle-class buyers record on their mobiles for sharing on WhatsApp and social networks, the crowds mellow down. The sight of a news reporter with a Handycam and a mike raises their spirit. Women, senior citizen, and young children step forward to speak to the eyes of the lens, hoping against hope that their voice will be heard and their grievances solved. The homebuyers are served with Samosa, bread, gulab jamuns and 100 ml mineral water bottles to recharge their batteries, before the protest starts again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2xhmswdDHA Kathputli Protest: By far the biggest crowd puller is a group of protesters that dressed up as Kathuputlis or puppets. They belong to a colony of puppeteers, snake charmers, magicians and other street performers who live in a forgotten slum colony of Delhi. Their speeches are interlaced with entertaining performances that delights the audience. They are demanding the one room flats promised to them by the government. They are not overtly bothered by the people already living in Rohini that have threatened to surrender their flats if the slum dwellers of the Kathuputil colony are given flats in the same complex as the current residents. OB Van and Media Coverage: The protesters also are eyeing the OB Van of a news channel. But it seems it is a permanent fixture here and any journalist or cameraman is yet to move out the mobile transmission unit to record the grievances of the India’s Tahrir street. Palika Bazar Flea Market: As the day winds up, protesters make their way to the flea market outside of Palika bazaar that is a major draw for tourists for being an undergournd market. The crowds are throning and liberally bargaining for items as diverse as jeans to mobile phone covers, pirated version of popular spececales to leather belts. India flag in Central Park: Another sight to behold is the giant tricolor, the flag of India waving in the central park. Perhaps the promise of the semi-functional democratic republic that was built on the ashes of the Britisher’s hasty departure from the sub-continent. In the words of the famous author Shashi Tharoor’s The Inglorious Empire. Reverse Vending Machine Free Coupon: Quite interestingly, the biggest draw for the crowd, a mere stone throw’s away from the India’s Tahrir Square is the reverse vending machine. There is a crowd of curious onlookers, who see the attendant of the machine insert an empty plastic aerated drink bottle taken from a middle aged man and take out a slip. “What is the slip for?” asks the crowd. “You can get a discount on lemonade and host of other things using this coupon,” the attendant informs the crowd. Only a few, it appears, have understood what he has told them. But are curious enough to linger on and see the next ‘transaction’ being done on the wonder-machine. [caption id="attachment_11912" align="aligncenter" width="506"] Tricolour at Jantar Mantar[/caption] India has seen everything; from Muslim invaders to dharma following Hindu rulers. Ashoka the great had ruled and taken it to glory, while British had ruled the entire subcontinent with an iron fist. Since independence, India has experienced both democracy,  and dictatorship (in the guise of emergency imposed by a prime minister to keep her hold on power). It has also seen ‘I am mum’ to ‘I am the best’ prime-ministers. But what sets India apart from other nations of the world including the colour revolution or Arab spring nations is that its Tahrir Square is filled with peaceful protesters, whose hopes may be dashed but whose inherent belief in the river of karma prevent them from marching to the seat of power and overthrowing it in a violent people’s coup. But that last strand of legendary tolerance of the Indian mind/psyche is also under strain as was seen during Nirbhaya protest or demonstration and the continuing upsurge in violence in campuses across Indian universities. Will India’s Tahrir Square continue to be a laid back Sunday protest venue, or will it change into something more dramatic and serve as the womb of a new revolution; only time can tell. Vickram E.Diwan is a published short story author, blogger, copy-editor and journalist. He regularly contributes to various news and writing websites. // ]]>