Here is the full text of why the veteran community wants to protest against a PM they cheered and supported:
Troubled Conscience of Indian Ex Servicemen
Respected Prime Minister,
On behalf of the ex-servicemen of the Indian Armed Forces, I have taken the unconventional liberty of writing to you in the fading hope of making you understand why I feel beleaguered, bruised, belittled and betrayed by the Indian government in particular and Indian nation in general, ever since this nation achieved independence. Sir, in your recent election rallies, your stance and proclamations did appeal to me despite my complete loss of interest in Indian political rhetoric and deep-rooted skepticism. You projected hope and I believed you. I hope that I, too, have some success in appealing to you.
You see, sir, I have a serious handicap in trying to communicate my feelings to you because India is an exceptionally unique country when it comes to her Armed Forces. Had I belonged to any other developed or developing country I would not be in this predicament. It is ironical but factual that most of these countries, the USA, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan, Australia and many others, understand the real essence of soldiering. Their leaders like Winston Churchill, Eisenhower, Kennedy, DeGaulle, Stalin, Hitler and so many others, actually, wore military uniforms and knew what it meant. The British royalty takes pride in serving in their Armed Forces, even today. Consequently, they all knew and know the signification of raising, running, managing and upgrading their Armed Forces. Most of all they understand the psyche of their soldiers, sailors and airmen due to their mental and historical proximity to them. The maturity and sensitivity engraved in their manner of administering and nurturing the Armed Forces threw up all-time legends like Admiral Gorshkov , the father of the Soviet Navy, Admiral Rickover, the father of US nuclear submarines, Marshall Zhukov, Field Marshal Rommel, Gen MacArthur, Field Marshal Montgomery, Gen Patton, Admiral Yamamoto, Admiral Nimitz, ace pilot Douglas Barder and a whole galaxy of their likes who dug major milestones in the world’s military history and motivated thousands of their officers and men to lay down their lives for the cause these nations espoused.
Their service headquarters are not mere adjuncts to or subordinate offices of their Ministries of Defence. These are integral to these nations’ basic framework of national security. They also do not devise devious equations between the soldiers and civilians which relentlessly hurt the former. They believe in one unwritten but a ‘must follow’ taboo. ‘Do not hurt the pride and lower the morale of the men in the Armed Forces’, because they are the ones who have willingly pledged their lives for the safety and honor of the country. These nations treat them as national heroes and never dilute their gratitude to them. They also have national war memorials to perpetuate this gratitude for all times to come.
Indian story has been entirely and unbelievably different. Since independence the Indian political leadership, due to some mysterious but exaggerated paranoia about Indian Armed Forces, chose to take a different tack. The first thing that it developed amnesia about was the fact that thousands of gallant Indian soldiers had laid down their lives far away from Indian shores in the first and second World Wars. Their acts of valour and selfless heroics are part of the folklore abroad and it is only now that some
NRIs want to build a suitable memorial to honor their heroism. Ironical but true because the real Indian heroes, de facto, are limited to movie stars and sportsmen! It was this paranoia, layered over by illiteracy about the meaning of soldiering and pledging one’s life, unconditionally, which, under the garb of ‘constitutional subservience of the Armed Forces to the elected representatives’, impelled the political leaders to hand over the management of the Armed Forces to the bureaucracy. The latter had convinced the former of their omniscience and super competence in managing every profession and sector in India sans corresponding professional training, background, experience or knowledge. This was true yesterday and is equally true today. No other country in the world follows this model in the present age of super-specialization.
It is this specially empowered bureaucracy which, without even a shred of any commensurate knowledge, over the past 67 years, has mastered and honed the craft of repeatedly hurting the pride and morale of the soldiers’ right from the Chiefs to the sepoy. ‘Jai Jawan’ is handy only at crunch time or prior to elections, whereafter the Armed Forces are routinely relegated to the status of a ‘necessary evil’ type heavy baggage that the nation, perforce, has to be burdened with. This bureaucracy has been successful in contouring the political thought process in the same mould.
There is a generation of ex-service men who, since the early 60s till about the mid-90s of the last century gave their sweat, blood, guts and even lives to rebuild India’s Armed Forces despite all the odds, hardships and extremely poor service conditions. A large number of these are in the last few years of their life. Today’s Armed Forces of India owe their present texture and strength to this generation whose efforts towards achieving this has been lauded even by the nations who partnered this venture. It is this generation that has been specially singled out to be stripped of its honour and made to virtually beg for its long and outstanding dues. When they were serving, these ex-servicemen, both officers and jawans, were paid a pittance as salary and perks vis-a-vis their lives which they had unconditionally pledged to defend the honour and security of this nation. They repeatedly proved it (in Kashmir) in 1947, subsequently in 1962, 1965, 1971, 1990 and during numerous national calamities including those precipitated by the expanding claws of terror stalking India randomly but definitely. They bled themselves not as a special favour to Indian but as routine. But for this routine, India could not have ridden the growth and development trajectory that she did.
The other routine. Every successive central pay commission continued to refuse to look at and understand the real service conditions, job content, job profile and stress levels of these men and their families. They continued with their devious equations with civilian staff with the latter scoffing at the Indian soldiers. So, because of their appalling ignorance of soldiering in Indian environs, these commissions showed no let up in, willingly and knowingly, belittling me with their ‘overall picture’ and bureaucratic rationales which, regrettably, are mostly irrational. When they did relent a little, in their successive incarnations, they dished out doleful increments to the later day officers and men and, by design, ensured that the generation, I am referring to, was perpetually kept out in the cold. Suddenly, the retired and ageing Brigadier realised that his pension was much less than the Brigadier who retired after the ‘dole out’ phase. The story was the same for every rank in the sidelined ‘pre-1996 retirees’ generation.
The confused lot, trained and brought up in the disciplined and dignified framework of behavior and conduct, collected together to decide upon the modus for resolving a multitude of attendant anomalies and formed various associations like the IESM. Their service careers had insulated them from politics and actions like collective protests, bargaining and demands which were alien to their upbringing. They, thus, were a disoriented, disillusioned and a cheated lot and continue to be so, till date. They repeatedly approached and appealed to the service chiefs who could only give lip service, as they themselves were either under bureaucratic siege, for years, or eyeing post retirement governorship of a small state or ambassadorship in a far off small country.
In sheer desperation, post numerous appeals to the political leadership, they collected at Jantar Mantar, the newly baptized Mecca of protests, to, virtually, beg for One Rank One Pension (OROP). This was seen in the same light as any other ‘rag tag’ event of Indian street protests. No one listened to them and none cared. Now, more confused, they returned their medals to the President of India, the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces. These medals, which they were decorated with during their uniformed tenures, were symbols of their selfless service, dignity, valour and pride. Not one word from the supreme commander. Some pension increase was doled out about a year ago, again, in the name of OROP but miles off the target. Actual 0ROP was a resounding NO by the bureaucrats and, consequently, the government. The beleaguered lot appealed to the courts for various acts of omissions. However, their legitimate arrears, despite having been ordered for payment, by the courts, continue to be denied by the government whose attorneys are filing away plea after repeated plea to reverse or stall these orders against the normal alibi of ‘what about civilians?’
Age is catching up with a large number of officers who, in and beyond their mid-70s, would possibly die with their last thoughts of the great betrayal. Consumed by more desperation, they approached Shri Rahul Gandhi who was, supposedly, spearheading the UPA’s drive for its return to power. He looked at this dejected lot not as ex-defenders of the country’s honor and security but as a sizeable and pliable vote bank and emphatically assured them of positive action. Soon, thereafter, the Finance Minister of the exiting government, during his interim budget speech, ceremoniously announced that the long-standing demand of ESMs had been finally agreed to and Rs.500 crores had been budgeted for the same. The Treasury benches thumped the tables; the perennially silent hon’ble Defense Minister thumping his table the hardest in self applause for a decade of nonchalance. The gullible ESMs, now beaming with in rush of fresh blood in their veins, congratulated each other. But they soon realized that this amount was far below the requisite sum and that no formal orders were to be issued by the exiting government. Once again, they would be given another incremental dole and no OROP. It was then that the enormity of another betrayal dawned on them.
Naturally, being more confused than ever before, they latched on to Shri Narendra Modi’s resounding resolve to rebuild India and reverse the, hitherto, neglect- laden treatment of Indian armed forces, still one of the finest in the world.
His election speeches repeatedly and unambiguously emphasized his uppermost priority to implement OROP, as also reflected in his party’s election manifesto, and correct the betrayal of ESMs by the exited UPA government. So, the confused and still hopeful but gullible ESMs made sure that they and their families, en masse, voted for him as the only visible messiah for restoration of their bruised honour and, thus, gain some reprieve from prolonged deprivations. And you, sir, became India’s Prime Minister. You spelt out your vision of a resurgent India in your first address to the new MPs. You were particular about early and an unambiguous implementation of OROP. Ditto for the presidential address to the Parliament in the wake of formation of your government. LOUD and CLEAR was the message. Congratulatory messages flew across the entire spectrum of ESMs. A 30 year old demand was finally met. Even the draft government letter was circulated. This was breath of pure and fresh air after years of wait and bureaucratic shenanigans. Days turned into weeks but no formal government letter or orders.
Come the first budget of the new government. The Finance Minister, also doubling as the Defence Minister, presented his budget to an over- expectant nation that wanted to hear the loud echoes of your election rallies in the financial roadmap to India’s ‘achhe din’. What came out was, mostly, routine and safe bets, as if all your ‘bold steps to be taken’ had been hijacked, once again and obviously, by the bureaucrats. The FM did proclaim sanctioning of the OROP, finally, with a layout of Rs.1000 crores. This was not even one fourth of the requisite amount. Thus the UPA II’s gambit was almost repeated. This was stunning, unbelievable but true. Again, no formal government orders about the implementation. Now, more disillusioned than ever before, the key representatives of the IESM met the Honorable FM on 16 July 2014 to know the correct and official status of OROP. The FM, heavily burdened by his ongoing and daunting task of mustering means to resuscitate the seriously ailing economy, was, at best, noncommittal. He also hinted at the near enormity of the amount required and virtually advised the IESMs to further tighten their belts. In other words no OROP; face the reality and forget the proclamations. This, apparently, was the last straw that flagrantly drifted past the ESMs. The bureaucrats, once again, had the upper hand as in all governments, heretofore. But in comparison with the loud and unambiguous proclamations to the contrary, this was the ultimate coup de grace or a massive ‘below the belt’ hit.
Now almost embarrassed at their own gullibility, this badly bruised lot wanted to, once again, converge on Jantar Mantar and return more medals to the silent commander-in-chief. But, alas, the elections are now over and the ‘gung ho’ bureaucracy will ensure that the connected files are either routed through a labyrinthine maze or tagged as ‘Can Wait’ or ‘Closed’. So, sir, I do not know how to even react; forget the impossibility of self-healing of periodically inflicted wounds. I believe that the amount in question is not in excess of rupees 4to 5 thousand crores. Annex 1 to this letter would indicate to you the extent of my inability to understand the FM’s logic and his insularity to my perspective, especially when he’s also doubling as the Defense Minister. In national terms the amount is miniscule.
Annex II to this letter is, perhaps, the only convincing raison d’etre for hijacking of your first national budget and the possible reason for dithering by the Hon’ble Finance Minister as regards the OROP. You have been briefed by the steel frame and cannot upset its members whose support you, perforce, have to rely upon for running your government because India could not develop a model of India specific governance. No one even tried. The iron frame shall remain solidly anchored whilst the governments and the nation can drift.
The size of India’s first budget was Rs.193 crores for 35 crore Indians against today’s value of Rs.15 lakh crores. At the time of the first budget, the morale and pride of the Armed Forces were at their peak. At the time of the last budget it is multiple notches down. In the last five years there have been approximately 600 suicides in Indian armed forces. These, fragging and clashes between officers and jawans are not abating. If the pride and morale had not been bruised and damaged, there would not be a single incidence of corruption, malpractice or moral turpitude in the Armed Forces which were stolidly impervious to the ingress of such national maladies. Regrettably, it is not so any more. These are alarming indicators of crumbling pride in uniform and severe dents in morale. Spectacle of military veterans and past seniors, begging for their dues at the capital’s protest sites, is certainly not good for the pride and morale of the serving soldiers who see their own future in similar or worse doldrums. Also, it does not flatter the image of Indian armed forces and the government under the numerous observation posts of the world’s diplomats abounding in the capital and elsewhere.
Sir, the pulse of any Armed Force is monitored by the degree of its pride in uniform and morale. Everything else only follows and is secondary. For an aspiring regional or global power, this is the first lesson in statecraft. So my humble and earnest request to you is to kindly find some time to consult your American counterparts, on the side-lines, about the methodology adopted by them in this regard, during your forthcoming visit to USA. After all, they know how to project their military prowess on a global scale in their capacity as a superpower and as an enlightened democracy. Ditto for Russia, UK, China, France and Israel etc. They are far from being green horns in this regard.
Whilst your emphatic and resolute proclamations for a revamped and resurgent India were very welcome, you have not, even once, acknowledged the most alarming deficit that India has progressively piled up during the past 67 years. It is character deficit. By all accounts, India has lost national character with the rate of deterioration being exponential in the past few years. If you wait or stumble in creating conditions conducive to rebuilding India’s national character, there would be no hope either for India or for Bharat, regardless of the lofty heights the national economy may, statistically, scale. I, accordingly and in all humility, wish to remind you, once again, to kindly pause and understand the psyche of Indian soldiers; both officers and men. Believe me, despite the national character deficit, they are still, possibly, the best in the world. A large majority of them, both serving and retired, still live by a rigid code of conduct and are relatively untouched by the national depletion in moral values. Their patriotism is unquestioned and they shall continue to pledge their lives, unconditionally, to Bharat Mata, today and always.
The ESMs are at your disposal not to protest for a miniscule portion of India’s GDP for OROP, which will decisively restore their pride and morale. They are the same selfless body of men of yore who, by their dedication to duty, gave this country a prolonged period of stability and security to achieve the present level of development and economic resurgence. They are at your disposal as a very large pool of educated, knowledgeable, disciplined, patriotic and honest human resource to be used, as force multipliers, in case you wish to launch your quest for rebuilding Indian National character which, by all accounts, needs to be your topmost priority. Please give it a serious consideration. The possibilities are enormous and real. Just trust them and try them out. My equally humble submission to the steel frame, through you, sir, is that it is the doing of one’s duty that embodies the highest ideal of life and character. The Armed Forces have proved, time and again, that they do have the most abiding sense of duty. This alone defines the solidity of character of Indian soldiers. As a contrast, if the iron frame had similar commitment to duty, India would not have piled up a huge character deficit, anyway, and dirty would not have flown the Ganga. So much for the inter-service equations in a national perspective.
Parting with this miniscule component of GDP for OROP will not only rebuild pride and morale of this vital and national human resource but will send a positive signal to the entire edifice of Indian armed forces which is required to remain rock solid for the non-negotiable unity and integrity of India
Lastly, I wish to submit that if you think that OROP would severely dent India’s economy and the ‘steel frame’, please inform the ESMs in clear terms and as a finality. At least they would start breathing and stop chasing an Indian mirage. You, sir, have also proclaimed to build a National War Memorial. At last a laudable proclamation. If this intent, in the future, gets translated to reality, I hope that I do not have to request for a small and inconspicuous plaque, therein, with the inscription,” In memory of the strangulated conscience of India’s ESMs”.
I sincerely thank you for your time and genuinely wish you success in all your Endeavour’s.
Deeply hurt, bruised and wounded conscience
Of ex –servicemen of India’s Armed Forces