Every year as 15th August approaches, one starts seeing familiar narratives – patriotic songs are played across all radio stations, television programs debate on progress made since Independence and experts extol the virtues of being Indian.
This year, the run up to the 69th Independence Day has been even more interesting. We recently lost one of our most admired and honest Presidents – Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam. Yet the popular sentiment was captured not by him, but by a convicted terrorist – who was nearly transformed into a martyr by those whose hearts strangely remained unmoved when the same terrorist conspired and succeeded in killing 350+ people, but who spoke of 'human rights' when after a long, arduous delay of 22 years, he was sentenced to death.
Even more interesting has been the juxtaposition of the treatment meted out to the soldiers and the veterans (for the uninitiated - the veterans refers to retired personnel of the Indian Military). While on one hand a popular radio station is running a campaign to send greetings to 'our brothers at the borders'; on the other hand, the Government is showing that its promise to implement OROP was actually nothing more than an election 'jumla'.
For any nation, there can be no greater shame than the fact that the people who have volunteered to die for the country, have to plead with the Government for their basic rights. The retirement age in the Indian Army is far lower than that of the other sectors.
The Army needs to be physically fit and mentally agile at all times and hence the aim is to have a force that is relatively young. This translates into the fact that many soldiers retire in the mid-30s – an age when their family responsibilities are still not over...kids have to be educated, parents have to be taken care of, they themselves may have to learn new skill sets in order to get alternate employment.
If a man has given the best years of his life to the country, is it not the country's duty to look after him when he needs help? Successive Pay Commissions have been used as an instrument to reduce the financial and protocol status of the Indian Army without any rationale given for the same.
In absence of transparent discussions, it appears that the same has been done to prove 'civilian supremacy' over the Defence Forces. This combined with the long overdue OROP seems to be signalling the Government's indifference and apathy to its men in uniform.
The OROP demand is not one based on pity or sympathy. It is simply asking for what is one's right. The demand is for all veterans to get the same pension, depending upon the rank at which they retired and the length of service.
The OROP will impact approx. 25 lac ex-servicemen and the cost to the exchequer is estimated to be Rs.7500 Cr (similar to the budget of one department- the Water Resources Department – of only Maharashtra in 2015-16).
It is a black day for any nation when its soldiers have to undertake public protests, demonstrations, relinquish their medals and awards to draw attention to their just cause.
The Indian Army is one of the last few institutions in India today that are still looked up to. It constitutes mature individuals who respect and value the democracy. When the veterans are raising their demand for OROP, they are doing so in a democratic manner.
The demonstration at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar was a peaceful one and there was absolutely no justification for the Delhi Police to manhandle them and forcibly evict them from the site.
Attempts by political parties to now capitalise on the issue and create political alignment in what has so far been a politically neutral force could kick start a very dangerous trend. Political interference has corroded the police and other law enforcement agencies. We don't have to look far to see examples of countries where the Army has subsumed the civilian authorities and is the supreme power.
In the 2014 elections, the BJP and more specifically, Narendra Modi had promised that OROP would be implemented as soon as they came to power. Modi repeated the promise when he spent the first Diwali with the troops at Siachen.
A few months later, he mentioned in his 'Mann ki Baat' that there has been a delay in implementing OROP because the issue is more complicated than what he had envisaged! The most powerful man in the country saying that he made a promise without really understanding the issue...this could mean only two things...
1) Either he was being untruthful when he had promised to deliver OROP
2) Or, he handled the issue superficially and was taken for a ride by his team of advisors
As a responsible Indian, both of the above scenarios have me worried. I do not want my country (and my future) to be dependent upon a man who is neither trust worthy nor sincere in his promises.
After the demonstration at Jantar Mantar, Rahul Gandhi has said that he will talk to the veterans. I have only question for him – why did he not talk to the veterans when his Government was in power for the last 10 years? If his concern for the veterans is genuine, why did he not use his influence in the Congress to deliver OROP?
Finally, lets us not forget that today's soldiers will be tomorrow's veterans.
How we treat our veterans today will influence how our soldiers view us. Let us not push our veterans to such an extent that the soldiers turn around and abandon us. If the veterans need the nation to support them in OROP, the nation needs them far more.
As for me – my father was in the Indian Army. He participated in the 1971 war and was based at Siachen and Punjab at the peak of insurgency. I have many friends who are currently serving in the Indian Army. I have lost friends in the Kargil War. My 7 year old son wants to join the Indian Army when he grows up and I have always encouraged his dream. But after seeing how we treat our veterans, I have now told my son not to waste his time for this country.
"For their service and sacrifice, warm words of thanks from a grateful nation are more than warranted, but they aren't nearly enough. We also owe our veterans the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned. We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America. It's a commitment that begins at enlistment, and it must never end."
- President Barack Obama, March 19, 2009
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Aditi Kumaria Hingu is a marketing graduate from IIM Calcutta, currently she works in the corporate sector. She comes from an army background.