NEW DELHI: A war is over. But many battles lie ahead. At 3 pm on Saturday, in front of the famous War Room 1129D at South Block, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fulfilled his commitment and approved the One Rank One Pension (OROP) demand by ex-servicemen, pending for over four decades. “I appeal to veterans now to continue the task of nation building,” he said.
OROP, for over 25 lakh ex-servicemen and around 6.5 war widows, will cost the national treasury nearly Rs 10,000 crore annually. But the NDA government fulfilled the promise Modi made at Rewari, unlike the Congress-led UPA government, which announced OROP barely two months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But the ex-servicemen, weary of broken promises, did not buy it. However, on Saturday, the agitators, who were shown the OROP draft by Parrikar earlier in the day, replied they were not fully satisfied.
“We accept only one point made by the government, the implementation of OROP and categorically reject everything else,” said Major General (retd) Satbir Singh, who heads the Indian Ex-servicemen Movement. Further, diplomacy prevailed. Later in the evening, the veterans met Parrikar and said they were satisfied, but would decide on the future course of action only after discussing with their core committee on Sunday. Parrikar has announced equal pension to three million military personnel retiring with the same rank and the same length of service.
Defence Ministry sources said the Prime Minister had wanted to implement OROP earlier, but some ‘unreasonable and unrealistic’ demands by the ex-servicemen was forcing the government to take more time.
But since June, after the ex-servicemen sat on a protest at Jantar Mantar and subsequently went on a hunger strike, the government went on the defensive.
Several rounds of negotiations by OROP representatives with top leaders and ministers like Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Parrikar, BJP president Amit Shah, RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat, NSA Ajit Doval and Principal Secretary to the PM Nripendra Misra were held to thrash out the knots. They realised that what started as an agitation in the heart of Delhi was turning out to be a movement.
As the OROP was a personal poll commitment made by Modi during Diwali last year, the government failed to give any specific date or deadline to implement it. Representations were made to the government, including the returning of medals by the veterans to the President, adding further pressure. But the government was finding it difficult to accept all demands of the ex-servicemen since it felt some were not ‘reasonable’. All eyes were on Modi’s Mathura rally on May 26, celebrating the completion of the first year of the NDA government.
However, disappointment prevailed in the defence community, when he did not touch upon the subject. On May 31, Modi sought more time from the ex-servicemen to solve the issue.