'My appeal to ex-servicemen,' says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd), 'is please do not demean yourself and bring our izzat down to the levels of militant trade unionism of the banks or airline variety! Please accept a reasonable compromise and fight your battle with the 7th Pay Commission!'
'On 23 September 1803, as Major General Arthur Wellesley (later to become the Duke of Wellington) came up to village Nalni when he received the news that the Shindia army was camped just 6 miles away at Assaye.'
'As he reached a hillock nearby overlooking the Maratha camp, he saw an extraordinary spectacle. The whole army was totally unprepared with men relaxing in the open and bullocks left for grazing.'
'From his spies Wellington came to know that there was a 'dharna' going on as the troops had not been paid for a long time! Wellington realised the golden opportunity and without waiting for junction with the forces of Colonel Stevenson, decided to attack the Marathas there and then.'
Colonel Malleson in his work on decisive battles of the British empire ranks the victory at Assaye very high up. The Duke of Wellington himself classified the battle in the same league as the battle of Waterloo he fought on June 18, 1815.
As the 'dharna' by ex-servicemen enters the 80th day one is painfully reminded of this dismal page in our military history.
The current impasse seems to be unbreakable as the self-appointed leaders of ex-servicemen haggle over minor details. This is more in tune with the actions of our trade unions rather than a movement by ex-servicemen.
Right at the outset I accept that the ex-servicemen have been driven to this corner by an insensitive government that continued to dilly dally about the legitimate demands of retired soldiers.
The police action of August 14 was an affront and a dangerous move by someone in the government who needs to be identified and punished for high handedness. A mere apology is not enough.
Having accepted all the above, it still does not justify the kind of negotiating tactics these self-appointed leaders are using. One must appreciate that the new government is the first one to accept the demands and act on it. The ex-servicemen must give sufficient slack to the government. An attitude of 'my way or the highway' is unnecessarily prolonging the national agony.
It is basically an issue of compensating the jawans who have to retire with just 15 to 20 years of service. In their case there should be no compromise and PBOR (Person Below Officer Rank) up to Havaldar and equivalent must get the full benefits. Since the officers and JCOs do not retire that early they should be compensated only partly.
The reason for this is that the value of gratuity that we all received at the time of retirement has today gone up 10 times (the old Rs 2 lakhs/Rs 200,000 is worth Rs 20 lakhs/Rs 2 million today). But the new retirees do not get that amount of gratuity.
So if the old pensioners are to be given 'exactly' the same pension then they, the old pensioners stand to 'gain.' Is that the demand of the ex-servicemen? On the basis of equity, the old pensioners must get at least 10% less than recent retirees. This is the OROP that is fair to all.
The 'silent majority' of ex-servicemen is also appalled at the intemperate language and haggling that the self-appointed leaders of ex-servicemen are indulging in. We seem to be following the bad example of bank employees or airline pilots who come across as greedy!
For me as an ex-serviceman my izzat is far more important than the extra Rs 1,700 per month that I stand to gain. The ex-servicemen need to introspect that the tide of public opinion is already turning against the officers on agitation.
It was also an ill-considered move by agitating ex-servicemen to boycott the functions connected to the commemoration of the 50th year of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. This petulance has not gone down well with the public and is an insult to the martyrs of the 1965 war.
Some of these worthies have also raised the demand for a National War Memorial. I want to remind these individuals how ex-servicemen and civilians came together in 1996-1997 and constructed a war memorial in Pune entirely from public contributions.
Why should the war memorial be a government affair? I am sure if an appeal is made to the people of India, the people of India will give an overwhelming response!
I am afraid the Delhi 'dharna' and other agitations are typical of Delhi and its culture of 'demands'!
My appeal to ex-servicemen is please do not demean yourself and bring our izzat down to the levels of militant trade unionism of the banks or airline variety! Please accept a reasonable compromise and fight your battle with the 7th Pay Commission!
Our enemies are gleefully watching this sordid drama that is affecting the morale of serving soldiers as well.
It is worthwhile to remember the pledge that we took on commissioning that the country comes first, our men next and our own comfort comes last always and every time.
Will the leaders of ex-servicemen be true to this pledge written on Chetwoode Hall?
Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a military historian and a frequent contributor to Rediff.com
IMAGE: A sad sight: Retired soldiers forced to agitate for One Rank One Pension.