With the ex-servicemen getting restive over the dilly-dallying on implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP) and planning to hit the streets on June 14, pressure is building on Prime Minister Modi. He had given the dream of achche din to more than four million armed forces personnel by making OROP a major poll promise. He is now learning the hard way that converting election promises into reality is a different ball game altogether.
Much is at stake for Modi. OROP has begun to target his meticulously constructed image of a strong leader who stands firm on his words. The ex-servicemen had pinned high hopes on Modi to see their decades-long wait end. But the uncertainty over its implementation has begun to test their patience. They have even started boycotting honour ceremonies and functions in protest.
Modi is well aware of the rising anger among the ex-servicemen and has tried to pacify them with his recent “Mann ki Baat” address, reiterating his commitment to the issue. That the former armymen seem to be in no mood to wait any further has also got the government on its toes. Former Army chief and Union Minister General V K Singh met the PM on June 3 only to be assured that OROP would be implemented “come hell or heaven”.
Efforts are simultaneously on to persuade the ex-servicemen to desist from going ahead with the June 14 rally. Top guns in the army, both in service and retired, have begun reaching out to the senior ex-servicemen with the message that it would not only be counterproductive but also would strengthen the hands of forces inimical to the grant of OROP. Chief of Army Staff General Dalbir Singh, who also met the Prime Minister a day earlier, was also given the same message that OROP would come through as promised.
Defence personnel have been fighting for OROP for the past three decades. Successive governments have dragged their feet over the pension plan that will put an end to the huge disparities in the existing system that discriminates among personnel retiring in the same rank. There is no question that an uniform pension for same rank, irrespective of date of retirement, is essential as majority of defence services personnel retire at a fairly young age between 35 and 37 years, while civilians and even Central Armed Police Forces staff attain superannuation at 60. Every government and its bodies from Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence and Rajya Sabha Committee on Petitions have recommended OROP but have balked at its implications.
The Modi Government also seems to be teetering following the realisation that the payout would impose around `8,400 crore initially and add around `1,000 crore every year to accommodate nearly 2.4 million existing ex-servicemen. There is also a growing talk about similar demands being raised by others.
While the ex-servicemen’s feeling of betrayal is justified, the path being adopted by them is just not right. A direct confrontation with the government does not behove a disciplined and duty-bound organisation as the armed forces. The mood within a section of the retired servicemen is also against taking such strong steps and give some more time to the government. For the government, too, the onus is on ensuring concrete steps towards OROP.
The delay has not only affected the morale of the forces but also poses a big impediment in drawing youth to the service, which is facing staff shortage at every level. Ways can be found to balance the cost implications through restructuring the service and cutting off unnecessary flab and paraphernalia. OROP could be an Independence Day gift to the veterans. But any further delay will spell trouble.