Thursday, November 19, 2015

OROP: Creating a Win-Win Situation

The OROP agitation entered the 156th day on 17 Nov 2015. I believe that the agitation is a symptom of a much larger malaise, and that being the ‘neglect of the military’ by successive governments. The defence forces have been systematically downgraded in the hierarchy, and are functioning under dysfunctional ‘authority and responsibility’ structures. The Service Chiefs head the ‘attached offices’ under the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Department of Defence. They do not have the requisite authority to undertake the responsibilities that they have been charged with. The authority rests with politico-bureaucratic structure of MoD, which does not have the optimum and requisite professional competence to take decisions on matters related to national security. It is very instructive to see the organisational chart of the MoD in this regard; there is no representation from the Services in this chart. The professional advice to the elected representatives is thus through a ministry structure that lacks professional soldiers. There is thus an urgent need for a full and meaningful integration of the Service HQs with the MoD so that the basic principles of management are not violated to the detriment of national security planning, procurement, and execution. The structures give an impression of the soldier being treated as a ‘paid mercenary’ rather than the only professional partner in ensuring national security, and as an important partner in upholding the Constitution of India.
The profession of arms in any democracy has three operative words, “Duty, Honour (Izzat), and Country. The profession demands a large number of sacrifices, going right up to the ultimate sacrifice that any mortal can bestow on his country. All that the soldier asks in return for this is love, izzat, and a feeling that the whole country is behind him and would look after him/ his dependants, in the best manner possible. The soldier does not enjoy all the fundamental rights enjoyed by the other citizens. This implies that the soldier relies on the government to take care of his legitimate dues. OROP was promised nearly 40 years ago, and the soldier waited for the government of the day to give him his due. The legitimate demand of OROP was not promulgated, even after it was passed by two parliaments; and favourably ruled by the Supreme Court of India. Due to service conditions, the serving personnel have limitations in putting forth their ‘just’ demands. However, there are no such limitations on veterans. The veterans thus decided to go on agitation to press the case for their just demands. The agitation started on 15th June but picked up steam only after the government agencies tried to dismantle the venue at Jantar Mantar, and manhandle the veterans, on 14th August. This partisan action on an agitation that was duly approved by the concerned authorities; was peaceful; was pro-country; was not derogatory/ denouncing any one, did not go down well with the veterans, as it reconfirmed their belief of a certain mindset of the politico-bureaucratic combine. This belief stems from the fact that our systems and structures are designed to keep the military out of the loop, even in matters concerning national security. The Service Headquarters are ‘Attached Offices’ of the Ministry of Defence with the Defence Secretary, a bureaucrat, responsible for matters related to defence. Everyone understands that in a democracy, civilian control of the military is paramount. Logically this implies that an elected representative of the people of India should control the military, and it definitely does not imply bureaucratic control. 
A Glimpse of the OROP agitation: Maj Gen Satbir Singh and Gp Capt V K Gandhi
Image Courtesy: Google Images

The government notification on OROP has not been found satisfactory as it has changed the accepted definition of OROP, and the agitation continues. This is not a healthy state of affairs, and needs to be resolved at the earliest. The only way forward is through dialogue. Mr Narendra Modi had made an election promise of OROP implementation as BJP’s PM designate candidate, and also after he assumed the office of PM. He has thereafter not found the time/ inclination to sit down and discuss issues with the agitating Veterans and this has led to hardening of positions. The accepted definition of OROP, as adopted and accepted by the Koshiyari Committee, is available. There is a need to stick with that definition. In case there are problems in executing what was promised, the same can be resolved through dialogue between the veteran leaders and the PM, the same person who promised OROP. Veterans are honest, disciplined and credible citizens and the citizen's representative should have no hesitation in speaking with them. Dialogue is the PM's call as there is a lack of trust on the part of the veterans, because the implied promises in the past have not been fulfilled.  

I personally believe that the agitation should be called off and the matter referred to the judicial commission, after the PM initiates a dialogue with the veterans assuring them that the commission would complete its task in a time bound manner, and that all recommendations of the Commission would be implemented in full thereafter. This will create a healthy, win-win situation and help break the impasse, which is needed to prevent further divisions in the rank and file of veterans, as also the serving personnel who could not have stayed unaffected by all that has happened in the past few months.