Politicisation of the unfortunate demise of Subedar Ram Kishan Grewal continues shamelessly. TV channels were referring to some 12 letters on Orop written by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Member of Parliament, to the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Chairperson UPA and Rahul Gandhi during UPA-1 and UPA-2. But then the open letter dated 4 November, 2016, from Rajeev Chnadrasekhar to Rahul Gandhi arrived on the scene.
The above letter completely exposes the most insensitive manner in which both UPA governments treated genuine grievances about long-pending implementation of Orop. It demolishes Congress claims of Orop despite Orop being a part of their election manifesto before UPA-1 came to power. The letter also refers to a Parliamentary Committee of Petitions under a Shri Koshyari that studied a petition (Rajeev Chandrashekhar being instrumental in its submission) that was ignored by UPA, as was the Koshiyary Committee Report submitted in 2011.
Despite the above, the theatrics of claims and counter-claims continue: histrionics by the Congress and AAP, AK Anthony emerging from his refuge to squeak his bit, BJP claiming Orop promise fulfilled, and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar quoted by the media saying, "Only one lakh ex-servicemen out of over 20 lakh are not getting pension as per the Orop scheme due to some technical difficulty or documentation problems." Ram Kishan Grewal was one of those unlucky one lakh veterans who despite two months having elapsed was denied Orop.
The question is not whether the suicide of Subedar Ram Kishan Grewal was of his own volition or politically motivated. It is clear he was denied the benefit of Orop irrespective of whether the announced Orop was 'partial' or 'full'. The pension disbursal agency (PDA), in the case of Subedar Ram Kishan, was SBI, the premier bank of the government. If about one lakh veterans had been denied Orop for two months, what if more of this unfortunate group of veterans had decided to act like Grewal — not that lives of military personnel (serving or veterans) matter much to many in this country beyond perhaps politicising?
As per newspaper reports, Subedar Ram Kishan was receiving around Rs 3,000 less than what he was entitled to after 30 years and nine months of service: he was receiving a monthly pension of around Rs 25,000 instead of Rs 28,000; his case was among the "complicated ones", since he first served for six years in Territorial Army followed by 24 years in Defence Security Corps before retiring in 2004, delay in him receiving Orop was due to problems in calculation at his bank — SBI branch in Bhiwani district of Haryana.
The media also reported that MoD is mulling a central mechanism to handle Orop. Hopefully this will not be used to establish Dorop (Department of Orop) manned by bureaucrats on the lines of the Department of Ex-Serviceman Welfare (DESW) manned solely by bureaucrats and taking the veterans, widows and disabled to court for every penny they are due. What governments fail to understand is that having a vision is perhaps only 10 percent of the requirement, the remaining 90 percent must be the follow up — the execution, which mostly is missing. Were the instructions on Orop comprehensive enough for the PDA to work out the pension — obviously not, but why not? On the other hand, if the Orop instructions were comprehensive enough, then doesn’t the PDA deserve to be kicked?
If the Orop instructions were not comprehensive enough, who is to blame? Rather than talking of establishing another mechanism, why is Orop implementation not part of the DESW charter? Is taking veterans, widows and disabled to court only function of DESW? Why did the Defence Minister only discover 'now' that one lakh veterans hadn’t received OROP? Obviously there was no system of feedback and Parrikar would not have discovered so if not for the tragic demise of Subedar Ram Kishan. So why was there no system of feedback?
Why with all the hype about "technology" and the government's messages through texting throughout India to send greetings to soldiers on Diwali, why couldn’t Ram Kishan and other one lakh veterans, who didn’t receive Orop, be sent a message that the disbursement of Orop was delayed, giving reasons and a date by which the due amount would be credited to their accounts? Is the government aware that with all the hype about Digital Life Certificate how many banks and branches in the capital have not still implemented this system and veterans still have to personally visit banks to fill up the form? Why were banks not given a date for implanting the Digital Life Certificate and why a completion report was not asked?
The Finance Minister is stating on TV channels that overall Orop and arrears granted at cost of 'X' thousand crores is being disbursed in four installments, first of which has been disbursed. He was as vocal in Parliament that Orop has many definitions. Some veterans have also been brought on electronic media to say that Orop has been already granted or much of Orop has been granted. Not that in forefront is one who has been switching political parties and allegiances on the drop of a hat.
Ironically, a military veteran holding political appointment referred to veterans peacefully protesting at Jantar Mantar last year as having aligned with Pakistan and the ISI. It actually amounted to him abusing the uniform he wore, whatever years he served in the army. Field Marshal Manekshaw had described this type saying, "A 'yes man' is a dangerous man. He may rise very high, he might even become the Managing Director of a company. He may do anything but he can never make a leader because he will be used by his superiors, disliked by his subordinates. So shallow — the 'yes' man." By holding political office this fellow may claim being 'leader' but the stink will stick..
The Congress dumped 12 letters about Orop by MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar. BJP would do well to heed five lines by him in his letter of 4 November, 2016, to RahulGandhi that reads, "Yes, there are some pending complex issues in Orop, including some fundamental issues to ensure consistency with the definition of One Rank, One Pension. These were referred to the One Man Judicial Committee set up to look after these anomalies. This committee has only recently submitted its report and we should look into them."
If the above is not hint enough, the undeniable fact remains that what has been granted is partial Orop, not full as promised. By doing so, the BJP lost the support of veterans who voted wholeheartedly in bringing the party to power, just for few hundred crores, despite Orop being revived after 1973. Opportunity is now available to correct the same via the Reddy Commission Report, whose recommendations after months of interaction with veterans logically should be to grant full Orop. Nevertheless BJP can seize the moment, rectify anomalies and grant 'full' Orop, ending veteran protests for the past two years. This would be the right move even as the Finance Minister may like to make it a prestige issue.
The alternative with BJP is to stick to the stand already taken: keep portraying that Orop has been granted in full. Some media can be made to sing that tune and so would some veterans to earn brownie points due to political leanings or seeking individual gains. Not without reason General Chandra Shekhar, former Vice-Chief of Army Staff, in his autobiography draws attention to army getting affected by declining value of society. But should this course be taken, the issue of Orop will not die down to the detriment of BJP.
Additionally, Orop will likely be a major shouting match in the forthcoming session of Parliament. Prudence requires that the government resolves it earliest — preferably before the Parliament reconvenes.
The author is veteran Lieutenant General of the Indian Army