Surprise suicide over OROP and despicable politics

Pointing out that the pension received by the former servicemen was still low, Grewal had also complained in the letter that his former colleagues who had the same rank as him got more pension than him because of the discrepancies in the current pension scheme.

Surprise suicide over OROP and despicable politics

Retired army subedar Ram Kishan Grewal committed suicide at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi over the One Rank One Pension (OROP) issue on 2 November 2016. Grewal, from Bhiwani district in Haryana, prior to committing suicide, left a note stating that he was taking this extreme step for the Indian soldiers. Media further reported that Grewal's family has blamed the Centre for the former jawan's suicide and that Grewal had also written to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on the issue, requesting,"Please pay heed to our demands."

Pointing out that the pension received by the former servicemen was still low, Grewal had also complained in the letter that his former colleagues who had the same rank as him got more pension than him because of the discrepancies in the current pension scheme. He also said that there were many others like him who had not got a hike in their pension. Grewal was reportedly drawing Rs 23,000 as pension against Rs 28,000 he would be entitled to under the OROP.''I am sitting near India Gate and I have consumed poison,'' Subedar Ram Kishan Grewal reportedly said in his last call to his family.

Once the OROP finally got sanctioned from 1 July 2014 and after again some dragging on, got implemented from 1 March 2016, it was a major four decades overdue financial jump. It fell short on a few aspects  from the ultimate/desired/fulfilled in letter and spirit form. The major issue that remained was of review once in five years instead of every year or every two years. And at that stage, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar assured the services that the remainder deficiencies would be  addressed, the bulk of agitators felt satisfied and were not inclined to continue the agitation further. However, those spearheading the agitation decided to continue it. However, for anyone supporting to continue the agitation to go to the extent of committing suicide seemed unlikely.

Bureaucrats in the Sixth Pay Commission succeeded in creating anomalies/disparities despite then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then Defence Minister A K Antony personally prevailing on them. The implementation of OROP dragged on for two years owing to the “interpretation” by bureaucrats and their callous attitude towards armed forces. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Manohar Parrikar who had assured its implementation had to assert themselves.

While it is a great pity that Grewal took the extreme step of taking his own life, the arrival of the number twos of  two political parties and some of their colleagues landing up at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, where Grewal’s mortal remains were kept, caused much commotion and great inconvenience to hapless patients and sick persons coming to the hospital for treatment. The Delhi Police Commissioner was constrained to address the gathering of political leaders to desist from trying to enter the premises. Eventually, the police had to pack them off and make them leave the area/detain them.

Political leaders' converging on the hospital became too obvious as an utterly mindless move to play politics over a sorrowful situation. Some of the comments by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, like “new India/Modi’s India” etc, not only failed to make any impact but sounded nothing short of ridiculous. After the despicable recent “Khoon ki dalali”, it is “Khoon ki raajneeti”. These political vultures were last heard heading for Grewal’s funeral.

It now becomes relevant to take a look back at post-independence history to see what the Congress party did or did not do for the defence services. The Congress vice president must know or revisit history to remember how his great grandfather denigrated the armed forces and how his party played football with OROP.

By the end of World War II 1945, Indian Army had become the largest volunteer army in history, rising to over 2.5 million men. Immediately after Independence, Indian Army was drastically downsized to less than half of what it was then - about 11,00,000 today - and officers’ salaries were slashed. And forget about acknowledging Indian Army’s World War II role, even acknowledging its role in defending the country in numerous conflicts after Independence by way of timely increases in salaries and the Armed Forces Chiefs being pushed far down in the order of precedence over the years resulted in suitable youth losing motivation to join the Armed Forces.

The anomaly in the grant of Non-Functional Upgradation of pay to Defence Forces has caused serious command and control and functional problems, severely impacting the progress of infrastructure development in border areas and social infrastructure in the hinterland.

In the 1950s, when Indian Army’s top brass apprised the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru about the Chinese build-up and incursions, concerted with the release of maps, he trashed their reports, naively complacent with his belief in the Panchsheel agreement and the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai mantra. The perception of Major T.P. Francis, one of the official interpreters during Zhou En Lai’s visit to India in 1962, did not match with the interpretation that the others gave. He predicted that China would attack India . When nobody in the government, including Nehru, believed his interpretation, Major Francis resigned in protest. China did indeed attack India. Indian Army, inadequately armed with over half-a-century-old bolt action .303 Lee Enfield rifles, insufficient ammunition and lack of warm clothes, suffered a humiliating defeat with around 1,860 casualties. Along with the above shortcomings, daft and rigid political directions of “forward posture”, “not to lose an inch of ground” and not using the Air Force in an offensive manner so as “ to not raise the level of confrontation” made the defeat hurt the Armed Forces all the more. While everything from potatoes to postage stamps became dearer, Nehru, it was said, was a broken man who had to sack Krishna Menon.

The Nehru-Krishna Menon duo’s response to China was a combination of the absolute absence of strategic perception along with a contemptuous manner of dealing with an obedient and apolitical military leadership.

While barring former prime ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, all other Congress equivalents failed to follow the assertive approach in national security, what we saw in 2013, in dealing with both China and Pakistan, was the nadir. And the post-1971 process of downgrading the military’s status is amply reflected in orders of precedence and the Central Pay Commissions (CPCs), particularly the 6th CPC for its anomaly in the grant of Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) to defence forces.

Sources who would not like to be named have categorically stated that there is no doubt about  bureaucrats working towards discrediting the Modi Government and trying to ensure that it is not re-elected in its second  term. The Modi Govt has faced a strong backlash from salaried tax payers and Govt employees over its proposals like a tax on withdrawal from EPF, diluted form of One Rank One Pension to the defence ex-servicemen and enhancement of minimum wage and rationalization index in the 7th Pay Commission Recommendations. While the affected community is blaming the Government, it is the babus in ministries who are misguiding their current political bosses.