An army may march on its stomach, but for the force at large, izzat (dignity) has been a highly held ideal as well. In a country that boasts one of the world’s largest military forces that operates on the principle of voluntary enlistment, the government should try to resolve the current stand-off over the One Rank One Pension (OROP) issue with a realisation of this fact. Some of the responses heard from various quarters of the government so far do not indicate they appreciate that. Among other aspects, >the latest OROP notification issued by the government goes against the spirit of encouraging younger officers by allowing premature retirement. It is a serious anomaly that goes against the post-Kargil military reforms that have helped bring down the average age of field commanders. In seeking a solution to the outstanding issues, appointing yet another committee to look into the grievances will amount to nothing but a travesty. The military has a core function in a democracy, and ensuring its apolitical nature is critical to the future of a maturing nation. Indeed, strained ties with the larger military community could have unintended fallouts in the long term. The widespread protests could contribute to disaffection against the government, going far beyond the cantonments.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to take personal charge of the situation and deal with the veterans’ concerns credibly and earnestly. The first step should be to ask his Cabinet colleagues, including Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar himself, to be more circumspect in >their reactions to the agitation . Concerted campaigns against the veterans, that the media tend to mirror, and attempts to ridicule their methods of protest are not solutions. Once a cohesive and viable response is formulated after addressing all the concerns that have been highlighted, the Prime Minister has to involve himself in the process and ensure that the veterans are dealt with in a manner that ensures dignity. The OROP agitation is not a mere episode involving some disgruntled retirees; it has already found significant resonance among the serving ranks as well. That is worrisome. The protests may be dispersed, but the fact is that its effects are felt across the country. The Modi government should also not forget that its journey to power in the summer of 2014 was significantly aided by widespread anger against the United Progressive Alliance government on various fronts, and the ex-servicemen community — which had felt short-changed by that government’s approach to the implementation of OROP — formed a vocal part of the anti-establishment wave. Mr. Modi’s personal promise during the election campaign to implement the OROP scheme in full had given the community of veterans so much confidence in his government. For that reason too, the Prime Minister cannot shirk political responsibility when it comes to resolving the OROP issue in a fair manner.