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Please Let the Soldier Be

I decided to write on this matter, and had almost given it up. There were strong reasons for the same. The policy matters of Defense are pretty complex and then there are great minds who spend days on end to decipher, understand and explain it. The people who have spent a life time in uniform and are directly impacted by those policy decisions. I have neither the knowledge nor experience to talk about it. But then Rahul Gandhi wrote a letter to the Defense Minister, Manohar Parikkar. He knows and understands the matter less than me, even with his months of introspection in exotic foreign locales. I am sure about it and I have valid reasons for it. He has always been rich and therefore few thousand Rupees that is the bone of contention is not even a blip on his mindscape. Secondly the closest he has been to soldiering is when his dad, a commercial pilot was called on to service during 71 war, which he escaped by applying and getting annual leave at the same time. I felt I ought to write on it since I can claim to understand the subject better than him. Of course, he is the prince, that some would believe to have divine right to rule over the natives. I could not care much about his heritage, with descendants of Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar, as per news reports running tea stalls in West Bengal. The matter is complex so I go by the advise of Ray Bradbury, "Get the big truth first. If you get the big truth, the small truths accumulate around it." 

            He wrote on the back of vocal discontent of soldiers and citizens alike on matters that are military. In his letter, Rahul Gandhi asked the current government to be more sensitive to the soldiers. He wants to somehow communicate to the nation, and people who do not follow the news closely, that this discontent is arising out of the policy of current government. Decades of lofty electoral messages and petty politicking would have people believe his contention. It would truly seem as if we had a government ruling the nation for last six decades, a very patriotic, very nationalistic government, which loved and respected its soldiers. He would want us to believe as if suddenly we have, we the stupid natives, have elected and installed a government which cares nothing for our soldiers.

            Public memory is short and that is what his spin doctors would have made him believe. It however seems, they have made the prince believe that public memory is not only short, it is non-existent, and that if you keep on throwing muck at someone, at least some of it will stick. When we look at the upcoming American elections and the choices it presents to the electorate, we must be very, very worried about the role slogans and rhetoric play in a media driven politics, which amplifies nonsense and diminishes logic. Indians, as a society, by virtue of a philosophy historically, with logical thinking deeply entrenched, are good in separating wheat from chaff. However, things are changing. This emboldens a non-serious politician like Rahul Gandhi to ignore his own insensitive Khoon ki Dalali statement, translating loosely into pimping the martyrdom of the soldiers, on the back of Surgical Strikes. He seems to believe in the fact that public memory is short and the narrow selfishness we have shown on various incidents as a nation of late, AAP removing Congress from Delhi on the backdrop of promises of freebies and legitimization of the illegitimate, being an example.

            When Rahul Gandhi spoke after being ousted from Delhi that Indian National Congress should learn from AAP, we now are getting to understand, what that meant.  He has made Congress into AAP of a more dangerous kind, with deeper network of intellectuals under gratitude, editors on payroll, media with well-established political allegiance. He called it BJP’s chest thumping when the political leadership went as much as to claim the responsibility of surgical strikes and congratulated the military. This is not chest-thumping. This is owning up to the soldiers. Instead of pretending not knowing, which would have taken away the moral high ground and legitimacy of surgical strike. When the leadership officially owns such an attack, it is expressing its willingness to share the fallout, at the diplomatic level. It also differentiates our soldiers getting into enemy territory to extract revenge in the middle of the night from those who enter, like thieves, into Indian Territory, who when caught no one takes ownership of, like in Kargil. If there were other such strikes which happened in the past, disowned by the political establishment, Congress should answer for that instead of asking questions. This public acceptance also differentiates India from Pakistan, where Army takes decision on their own, and the elected political class merely follows the instructions given by the unelected military.

            Consider the case of OROP (One Rank One Pension). Rahul Gandhi and his party donned on itself the mantel of a crusader out to get OROP for the soldiers. OROP, to the best of my understanding, and I confess having very little of it, means a soldier retiring at one salary level at one point of time, has his pension adjusted to another soldier who retires at another time, when the paygrades have changed. This implies continuous readjustment in the pension. This would sound unfair unless we consider that retirement for a soldier is not a choice. Soldiers don’t retire, many of them are retired to keep the forces young. This is what OROP is, in essence. It brings load on the financial systems, but then if the soldier weren’t a soldier and was any other government employee, he would be working till he was sixty, and benefitting from all the pay commission increments till he was sixty, while as a soldier he retires when he is 30.

            It is all very noble of Rahul Gandhi, backed by his PR machinery to claim that Congress always intended to support OROP. OROP, for the uninitiated and editorial readers, it not a new thing. OROP was in existence for 26 years since independence. After 1971 Military victory, which elevated Indira Gandhi to the position of something like India’s Julius Caesar, a hero who went berserk, as we were to discover only six year later, in 1977, Mrs. Gandhi, Congress Stalwart and Rahul Gandhi’s Grandmother, was full of new-found confidence and surrounded by sycophants. Three years after the victory, which Congress still lays claim over, and six months after the retirement of venerable Sam Maneckshaw, the real military hero of the victory, Mrs. Gandhi ended OROP in the year 1973. So OROP was removed by the party, Rahul Gandhi is the Vice President of, and by his Grandmother, whom he invokes regularly as an heir to the legacy of divine rulers (Congress as a party believes that no matter what the family needs to lead it). With this in 1973, Army was brought into the ambit of third Pay commission. The third Pay commission, which was to decide on the salary of civil servants, took Armed Forces under its ambit, and separate Pay commission for armed forces was removed. What this pay commission essentially did was to increase the civilian pension which was 30% of basic to 50% and reducing the soldier’s pension to 50%, from 70% then. The Pay commission, which had Military unrepresented in the commission, supposedly brought parity, while one key fact which was ignored that the soldier got only 15 years of working life (and was retired by the time he was 35 years) while the civilian continued to draw government salary (100% of it) till 58 Years of age.

Some say, that insecure as she was, Indira Gandhi did all this to cut Armed Forces to its size, which was hailed all across the country after 1973 victory. It would seem some of that permeated down to the UPA 2 when the Defense Minister AK Antony did not deem it fit to attend the funeral of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, loved equally by the civilians and Armed Forces. Even Sam Manekshaw who was appointed Field Marshal, a life-time post, was denied of his salary and dues (totaling around INR 1.6 Crores) for 36 years, until the same was released with the intervention of the president APJ Abdul Kalam (another act which earned him disfavor of Congress resulting in Congress’ opposition to second term for the most popular president in the Indian history) which was given the Field Marshal on his deathbed, while the Congress kept on chest-thumping about 1971 victory on an off, using their own phrase. The governmental apathy to armed forces during UPA and Congress would be another topic, but is mentioned here just to illustrate the mercenary approach of the Congress, trying to use the finest of our institution to regain power, once thrown out of power by the citizens on the account of never-ending series of corruption cases.

KP Singh Deo committee appointed by Indira Gandhi in 1984, submitted report with 69 recommendations with OROP being one of them. This was the first instance the term appeared in the public lexicon. Three recommendations out of the 69 rejected by the government was separate commission for ex-servicemen, ex-servicemen finance commission, and OROP. Apart from one-time payment in 1991, as one time parity, OROP stayed on the backburner. Sixth pay commission further aggravated the disparity, when the recommendations were submitted in the year 2008.

Next came the matter of disability pension. In 2011, Committee headed by BJP MP, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari again recommended the implementation of OROP. UPA II government, then in power, led by the Congress, again put the report into back-burner. Congress was immune to the sentiments of people, safe and secure in its populistic schemes, which sought to buy loyalty using state welfare, and the knowledge of major opposition, BJP being less of an opposition and more of a Congress by another name. UPA 2 saw an overconfident Congress, with Sonia Gandhi and Family looking at the India at large, ruling which was something of the burden on a white man’s soul, as they went about the plunder with blatant arrogance, if one looks at corruption charges, they behavior of the government during Police action on Anti-corruption movement led by Ramdev and during Nirbhaya protests. Congress presumed themselves to be destined to rule and BJP to be an eternal opposition party, both destined to live happily ever after. Things swiftly changed as Narendra Modi emerged on the national electoral scenario and the unwashed masses turned out to be intellectually far more aware than Congress ever thought them to be.
As clinical maneuvering began, with visits to the Jama Maszid, Congress suddenly discovered OROP. This happened after Haryana Rally of Narendra Modi in Haryana where he pledged to support OROP. The half-hearted calculations pegged the financial implications of OROP as INR 1065Cr. Now Rahul Gandhi writing to PM Narendra Modi is not only soulless letter as fallacious as it is preposterous if one looks at the time line of OROP. Since OROP was scrapped by Congress Government in 1973, it has been put on back burner, except for slight movement in the year 1991 (under Chandrashekhar Government) when one time settlement was proposed by Sharad Pawar Committee. Congress’ own record on its treatment of armed forces have been pathetic, not including Nehru era, where he on records, wanted Armed forces to be scrapped and felt Police could do its job well for a peace-loving democratic nation. Rahul Gandhi is so desperate to compensate for lack of intellect with lack of sensitivity that he chose the day a soldier was beheaded, to write a letter to the head of the government which has initiated rolling out OROP, while he himself represents the party which not only scrapped OROP, rather sat on status quo.

One can argue that why the soldiers have a problem with the first government which has shown its intent to address their concern and are vocal about it. It would seem as if things were better for last forty years and have gone bad rather than better, contrary to the facts. I would see two reasons for the same. One, some veterans might be getting instigated by the deep network of Congress, which we saw during editorials on missing JNU student and silence on the dead student and Award Vaapsi; two, possibly, for the first time in the independent history of India, people, army included, feels there is a government at the helm which is likely to consider their views. If it is latter, Narendra Modi government, instead of worrying, take pride in the love and trust soldiers are placing in him; if it is the former, it is important for the government to deepen the communication to counter the mafia-like grip of the congress on the intellectual-media cabal, with facts and data. This nefarious design came evident even on the point of change in the rank structure of armed forces. There could be have some mischief on the part of MoD which released news in such a way or the media which reported it thus. The clarifications came on 27th of October,2016, ( making it unambiguously clear there is no tinkering with the ranks structure which remain as per the notifications of 1991, 2000, 2004 and 2005. If at all there was any discrepancy/ arbitrariness in these notifications released by earlier governments, one wonders, why protests now? It again indicates the two reasons I had just suggested.

There is a lot of voices urging the army to fight its own battle, more politically, more vocally. I feel a sense of unease with this. Military is a noble profession, where one human being puts his own life on line for his compatriots. It still is manned by human beings. It has all the reasons for eliciting deep respect, it has also have also equally big reasons to continue to remain worthy of it. India and Pakistan Army came from the same history. Pakistan’s political establishment made army a political tool. With great power comes great responsibility and with great power also comes greater possibility of absolute corruption. While as a nation, it is sad that we stayed deaf to the silent pleas of a disciplined force, during the rule of the political party which now intends to use the Army as a political tool to return to power; it is not right to urge army to abandon its basic nature of selfless nationalistic service and start sounding like a political outfit. The lessons are ample in Rome, in France, In Pakistan. We must vocally reject such sinister motives of the party out of power, and ensure that while we continue to treat army with respect it rightfully deserve, not let it become a mercenary force. Our soldiers do not protect our people and property; they protect something beyond that, they protect an idea of the nation. We cannot allow any change in the nature of our forces. Soldiering is an honorable profession. Not everyone needs to become a soldier, but we need to ensure that we earn his protection by the way we handle our profession, as a citizen. But soldier is also a citizen, and we need to watch his back. I will end with the quote by George S Patton- “A soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.” Let this quote linger in your consciousness, word for word, sentence for sentence. 
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