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Is the current political rhetoric over the Armed Forces justified?
Shashwat Gupta Ray | Tuesday, 22 November 2016 AT 08:57 PM IST
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Since the surgical strike across the Line of Control by Indian Army in Kashmir, there is a sudden clamour within the Central government for showing solidarity with the Armed Forces.

First, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who appealed to the people to send Diwali greetings to soldiers. Then came the ban on Pakistani actors in Indian films, stating that it is an insult to the brave soldiers fighting the enemy.

Now, the demonetisation move by the PM is being claimed as a “surgical strike” against black money and the hardships faced by people is "much less than what is faced by a soldier posted on LoC".

The government must first take lessons in military jargon. A surgical strike is a very precise and mission-oriented task, without raising any alarm. Considering the amount of hardship it has caused to the people, the demonetisation move is no less than collateral damage.

It is time that such pseudo nationalism should be stopped. If we look at the situation on the ground, one will find that there are many unsolved grievances of the Armed Forces that the Centre has not yet settled. Two of them are One Rank One Pension (OROP) disbursal and anomalies in the 7th Pay Commission report.

Recently, when an Army veteran Subedar Ram Kishan Grewal committed suicide over allegedly not getting his full pension dues he was entitled to, Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, instead of expressing condolences for the deceased soldier, decided to give it a political colour by criticising the Congress and saying that only one lakh ex-servicemen were facing problems in getting pension as per OROP scheme and it will be resolved within two months.

Does the Defence Minister find “one lakh” a small number? In October 2015 he said everyone has a right to make a demand in democracy but not all demands can be fulfilled. Underlining that the “maximum” demands of the veterans have been fulfilled, he said the judicial commission that will be set up, will look into the “problems”.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre seems to be struggling to satisfy the needs of the Armed Forces fraternity – serving and retired.

OROP means the same pension for the same rank for the same length of service irrespective of date of retirement. The government has proposed a review every five years. The veterans want an annual review. Their contention is that a senior officer can never receive a smaller pension than a junior officer.

The government initially said soldiers who took voluntary retirement would not be entitled to OROP. This hit a raw nerve as a large chunk of servicemen retire early. There is still no proper clarity on this issue.

So, while the Modi government did implement this scheme after more than 40 years, by releasing the first instalment of nearly Rs 5,500 crore, there are still some teething issues which are to be sorted out and continue to worry the Armed Forces.

The other issue concerns implementation of the 7th Pay Commission recommendations. The Armed Forces, led by Chairman, Chief of Staff Committee and Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had made a representation to Parrikar drawing his attention towards the anomalies in the recommendations, which the government had blindly accepted.

The military is unhappy with the 7th Pay Commission recommendations as bureaucrats hold the edge. Status of Defence officers has been progressively downgraded. The pension is Rs 20,000 lower than civil employees. The disparity in allowances has not been taken into account. Civilian employees are entitled to more allowances. The disability pension is a complete mismatch. While an Additional Secretary would get Rs 60,000 as disability pension, a Lieutenant General would earn only Rs 27,000.

A senior IAS official posted in North East would draw nearly Rs 60,000 as hardship allowance while only Rs 31,500 per month would be drawn by military officers in Siachen glacier.

Soon after the representation by Air Chief Marshal Raha, the Uri attack happened, followed by the surgical strike by Indian Army across LoC and now the currency ban controversy. Now, this entire issue has got buried and the BJP government very conveniently has forgotten it.

Instead of indulging in rhetoric, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister should show real concerns for the Armed Forces by sorting out these issues that are affecting the morale of our troops.

Many top veterans have said on record that if this type of discrimination continues against the soldiers, there will not be any guarantee for success in next major war that may break out in the future, as their morale is at the lowest ebb.

The choice is clear for the government – resort to jingoism and break the morale of soldiers or take concrete actions in sorting out the issues of Armed Forces.

- SHASHWAT GUPTA RAY
 
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