Shashi Tharoor – that maverick politician with ‘problems’ of his own – on OROP

Posted on January 15, 2015. Filed under: From a Services Career, Great Writing, Personalities |

New Year’s Resolutions, it is said, are made to be broken. There’s something about a new dawn that inspires the earnestness of yearned-for virtue in most of us, and we solemnly pledge to do this and that in the course of the New Year which we never thought ourselves capable of fulfilling in the old. And then, as the New Year turns less new, we tend to regret those rash resolutions, modify them, ignore them, or most of all, simply forget them.
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Our new government didn’t wait for the New Year to make something of a habit of breaking its promises, To some degree, this is unsurprising in most democracies: after all, as New York Governor Mario Cuomo famously pointed out more than two decades ago, “you campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose”.
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Extravagant campaign promises tend to look much more difficult to fulfill when faced with the reality of government.
What am I going on about? Very simple: it is the pledge to ensure “One Rank One Pension” for our retired military personnel, who currently suffer gross injustice through the provision of pensions that have not been indexed to inflation, so that a Brigadier who retired twenty years ago gets a lower pension than a Captain who leaves the force this year.
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This entirely reasonable demand – made by people who have risked their lives to protect our borders, our nation, and us – was acceded to by the UPA government, echoed by the NDA, and announced again by the new regime after its ascension to power. 
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The demand has not been fulfilled. Not one soldier has received an enhanced pension; meanwhile leaks in the newspapers “reveal” that the Finance Ministry has had a change of heart, saying that justice to our men in uniform would “cost too much”.
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It seems the Comptroller of Defense Accounts has estimated that the cost of One Rank One Pension could be as high as 9,300 crore. It may sound a lot, but the estimated budget for Mr Modi’s much-vaunted statue of Sardar Patel is 1,500 crore, which puts this sum in perspective.
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It is true I have a soft corner for our armed forces. I believe they embody the best of what India can be, but so rarely is: they are motivated, professional, meritocratic, competent, reliable, free of caste and religious prejudice, and they take risks the rest of us would not dare to. Yet we treat them in a disgracefully cavalier fashion.
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During my UN peace-keeping years, when I dealt with a large number of senior military officers and issues from around the world, I was appalled to see how poorly our professional officers were valued by our self-regarding bureaucracy.
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A full Colonel with over 25 years of service behind him is ranked by our babus below a Director in protocol terms.
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I have suffered through peacekeeping seminars in which a knowledgeable Indian military officer had to defer to a callow bureaucrat in discussions on military matters.
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At a time when post-Cold War peacekeeping called for serious levels of military expertise at the UN Headquarters in New York, India remained the only Permanent Mission to the UN (of any major peace-keeping contributor) not to post a military adviser. Our diplomats believed they knew it all themselves.
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This attitude extends to conditions of service across the board. A Joint Secretary, with nineteen years of professional experience, is deemed the equivalent of a Major-General, who not only has thirty years but has commanded men and materiel, made life-and-death decisions and protected our nation.
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We pay pensions to a lot more Joint Secretaries than Major-Generals (only 0.8% of army officers ever attain Major General rank). Yet we are now quibbling about the cost.
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Who are the people we are cheating here by pinching pennies? Some 20 lakh ex-servicemen and four lakh widows. It is time to ask the Government of Messrs Modi and Jaitley: gentlemen, have you no shame?
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As far back as 2003, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense recommended One Rank One Pension, calling it “a debt” the nation had to pay. It is a debt our Government must honour. Not to do so is an act of dishonor. It dishonors the nation and the flag these men have fought to defend. And it thoroughly discredits those who would treat the well-being of our jawans and officers as one more election promise to be lightly cast aside.


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