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'Even if the PM grants OROP, the trust is fractured'

By Shobha Warrier
September 04, 2015 14:24 IST
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Ex-servicemen protest demanding OROP in New Delhi

 

'Modi has entered blunderland as he does not understand the army. He has actually meddled with the army, which is much more damaging than the ignorance of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.'

'People had an impression that the BJP was different. Now it has been made very, very, plain that it is not.'

'Look at the contrast in the behaviour of the prime minister. When they burnt buses in Gujarat for an unjust demand, the prime minister addressed them in Gujarati while the army veterans were on relay hunger strike for the 74th day on that day, but no word on this from the PM.'

Colonel R Hariharan (retd) joined the Indian Army in 1962 when it was fighting a war with China and served the country for 29 years.

Today, he is recognised as a specialist on South Asia military intelligence having served as the head of intelligence for the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990.

The 79-year-old soldier, below, left, says had he been younger, he would have been in New Delhi with the other ex-servicemen who are fighting the toughest battle in their lives, to force the government to implement the One Rank One Pension scheme.

He spoke to Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com, about OROP and the implications the struggle by the veterans can have on the army and the country.

When previous governments sat on OROP, Narendra Modi during his election campaign and later at many platforms promised to implement it without any delay. What is preventing the government from doing so? What is the technical problem they are talking about?

As an analyst, I will say Modi has got some grey areas. You take the land bill and the goods and services tax bill. He had made very firm commitments. Similarly, he made a commitment on OROP also.

He makes political obligations without analysing the financial implications. He thinks everything can be sorted by inter-state politics or intra-party politics, but that might work at the state government level. That is why he has blundered.

You call it a blunder?

Yes. He has entered blunderland as he does not understand the army. He has actually meddled with the army, which is much more damaging than all the ignorance of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, and the indifference of A K Antony to the real issues of the army.

OROP is not about successive governments making promises. There was a Parliament resolution and two Supreme Court judgments. And it was Indira Gandhi who promised OROP in 1973.

She 'rewarded' the army for winning the 1971 war by reducing their pension. The pension that was 70 per cent of the last pay was reduced to 50 per cent of the last pay while the civilian pension was increased from 30 per cent to 50 per cent.

Why did the army remain silent then?

Exactly. I find fault with all the chiefs since then. They did not put their feet down. That was because we didn't have a (Field Marshal S H F J 'Sam') Manekshaw anymore. Very few successive chiefs have shown the courage or conviction to challenge this. I know this as I was serving the army then.

I don't blame the bureaucrats; I only find fault with the chiefs.

In India, it is a very funny situation. The army is accountable for national security, but bureaucrats are in charge of security. The defence secretary is in charge of national security whereas the army has to deliver.

So responsibility is with somebody and accountability is with somebody else.

The previous defence minister (A K Antony) was grossly incompetent. He did not want to take up any controversial issues. His sole aim was to have a lily-white reputation though the maximum corruption was in the same regime.

So I have no hesitation in saying, politically, national security has never been on the agenda of any of the national parties except as a club to beat other political parties.

People had an impression that the Bharatiya Janata Party was different. Now it has been made very, very, plain that it is not.

The BJP had the support of all the army veterans, all the ex-servicemen....

That was because Modi made the promise that he would implement OROP. (Former army chief) General V K Singh joined the BJP along with Colonel Rajwardhan Singh Rathore because of this. They were able to muster the support of the veteran community mainly in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

It played well for the BJP and they knew that the army veterans were not going to negotiate. They have no trade union; in fact, it is forbidden for the army men to form a union. They are not going to form a union after serving the army for 30, 35 years.

Look at the contrast in the behaviour of the prime minister. When they burnt buses in Gujarat for an unjust demand, the prime minister addressed them in Gujarati while the army veterans were on relay hunger strike for the 74th day on that day, but no word on this from the PM.

That is why Major General Satbir Singh, who is leading the agitation from the front, asked, 'Why didn't he (the prime minister) come and explain to us the problems he faces, on August 14?'

Do you feel he is ignoring the ex-servicemen?

Many times they were promised that he would give them an interview, but nothing of that sort has happened so far. He has become even rarer than Manmohan Singh. I feel he is insecure in discussing the issue because he doesn't understand it. All the negotiations were done by the bureaucrats.

The defence minister had been sympathetic and the ministry had worked out a package in consultation with the financial advisor. That was in February. They are talking about technicalities now.

What do you think are the technical difficulties that they are raising now?

The simple technicality is that they do not want to accept the simple definition of OROP that has been accepted by Parliament. They want to change it.

The finance minister has discovered suddenly that the railways and the paramilitary forces also can raise similar demands. This is absolute nonsense because they don't retire like us; they retire after full service.

Army men retire early as they want to keep the army young. It is the case not only in India, but the world over.

That is why in the West, the pension has been fixed between 70 to 73 per cent of the last pay.

The pay commission blundered as the army was never represented properly. We don't directly go to them; it goes through the ministry of defence. It has come to a stage, the army is unable to control its own weapons.

Now, even if the PM grants the whole thing, I am sorry to say the trust is fractured.

You take the case of my family, there are many officers in my family. In Vellore in Tamil Nadu itself, there are 60,000 ex-servicemen. You can imagine how it will be in a state like Punjab.

Col R HariharanDo you think this will have an impact on the serving army too?

That is why the former chiefs met the defence minister and told him that this will affect the army and they will not trust any civil administration or any pay commission. They will have a problem with every pay commission.

Will it affect morale in the army?

It will not affect the morale of the army because the soldier is fighting for his life. But every army man will think twice, 'If I die, what will happen to my family? Will my wife get proper pension?' That is what will happen and this will have an impact.

Hereafter, nobody will believe any promises. The Congress had failed and now, the BJP also has failed.

Take the case of Tamil Nadu where there are so many ex-servicemen. I am very disappointed that the Tamil Nadu government wants to take up the case of Sri Lankans, but not our own ex-servicemen.

This shows the lopsided attitude of the political parties. They are going to pay a heavy price for this.

Even now, there is a huge shortage of men in the defence services. Will this dissuade young men from joining the services?

This will have a huge impact. The army had made many suggestions and they were all rejected. It had said that the army men were retiring early and they should be absorbed in paramilitary. This was rejected by the home ministry saying there would be seniority problems.

I don't know why they can't have a separate battalion with a separate cadre with ex-servicemen to carry out the job the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) is doing.

I can imagine, tomorrow if there is a war, the Intelligence Bureau will be spying on the army!

That is why I say Modi has blundered.

Do you think Modi is unaware of the consequences or he is simply playing politics?

I don't blame him as Modi has got different pulls within the party. He has to establish himself in the party. His party has stalwarts who will not be happy with his success. Because of the pressure, he is in a hurry to show results.

See, he has promised Rs 125,000 crore (Rs 1.25 trillion) for Bihar. Non-Performing Assets of Rs 56,000 crore (Rs 560 billion) are written off. You can find money for these things, but not for the army.

When I see the selective approach, I cannot but draw the conclusion that they very well know the veterans will never stop buses and burn them.

Is it not a sad state of affairs that those who guard the country have to resort to a fast unto death to make the powers that be, to listen to them?

Does anybody care?

My point is, the army itself did not recognise it as a major issue. The army has been following whatever the defence secretary was saying.

In 2013, General V K Singh (then the army chief) pointed out the deficiencies in the army in a letter to the prime minister after he had put it across to the defence minister. It was not done secretly.

Somebody leaked the letter and blamed it on V K Singh. And all the Opposition parties joined with the Congress and flogged him. And nobody talked about the deficiencies. Till date, nobody has asked what happened to those deficiencies.

Have you ever seen anyone discuss any defence matter in Parliament? Our country never had any strategic security culture.

Had Parliament functioned, would they have discussed OROP? Had Rahul Gandhi instead of making a noise, allowed Parliament to function and raised this issue, I would have had some respect for him. I have no respect for any politician.

Sorry if I sound cynical. India will soon realise that it cannot have a cynical army.

I resigned my job and joined the army in 1962 to fight for the country. Today, who is joining the army? Those who cannot get a government job because you have to pay bribes to get the job. And we have to motivate these guys. Still, they function in a disciplined way.

Why is it that only the army premises are clean when the rest of the country is dirty?

The situation is such that there is no support system for the jawans today. If a widow has to fight 12 years to get her pension...

The war veterans are fasting for their dues. And if you have a cynical army too, in what way will this affect the country?

You yourself can answer the question as good as I am. I am a much older guy and you are going to live to face it.

There is an umbilical connection in the army and we are like a family. If something affects the grandfather, it will affect the grandson too. He has to be concerned.

Now, the government is planning to celebrate the 50th year of the 1965 war...

Celebration for whom? The dead ones? What kind of celebration are you talking about when the living ones are not respected? You exclude all the war veterans and celebrate?

I also took part in the 1965 war. When the man who got two Vir Chakras, one in 1965 and another in 1971, says he would have participated in the celebrations if the government had announced something, you can understand the sentiments of all the veterans.

Do you feel General V K Singh and Colonel Rathore should resign from the Modi ministry?

There are people who believe that they can do some counselling within, but many feel they should have resigned. I am sure they are better judges, but I am surprised that they have behaved exactly like Modi. Apparently they have taken the stance of following party discipline.

I don't know how I would have behaved if I were in that position. They are all good people. I feel even now, it is not too late. They can still resign. At least they can wear black bands.

Do you think more veterans will join the agitation?

Yes, and it will go out of control. Had Modi announced whatever offer he had on August 15, it would have carried some credibility. It would even have divided the movement. I am not questioning Modi's intentions. We do not know why he has not kept his promise.

But they (the ex-servicemen) put forward a lot of options in front of the government, like paying the disabled war widows first, then the widows and the army officers last. They were even ready for valid government bonds. But the government doesn't want to respond.

Colonel Hariharan's photograph: Ramesh Damodaran.

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Shobha Warrier / Rediff.com in Chennai
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