MYSORE: Pradhan Mantri (PM)Narendra Modi celebrated Diwali with the army troops at Dograi and announced that One Rank One Pension was the government’s Diwali gift to the military veterans.

Perhaps he was not briefed that the veterans regarded this as as a “tainted” gift, since it is a version of OROP seriously diluted by bureaucratic machinations. This includes a proviso that OROP benefit will not extend to soldiers who retire prematurely (PMR) in the future – “No-OROP-for-PMR”. Perhaps PM Modi does not know that troops would not have raised the PMR question because they are disciplined, but why he didn’t himself tell veterans of his Diwali gift is not known.

The PM has never met veterans nor responded to their request for a meeting, though he has scored brownie points more than once when addressing serving soldiers regarding OROP. After assuring veterans of OROP during his election campaign, as the Prime Minister he questioned the definition of OROP even though the Koshiyari Committee stated it explicitly. When PM Modi stated at Faridabad that he would transfer funds meant for the poor to meet the demand of funds for OROP, he effectively stated that the veterans demand for OROP would be at the cost of the poor of India. Veterans see this as a slight and as a blatant attempt to gain political advantage, unbecoming of a PM from whom the military veterans and much of the country had great expectations.

Raksha Mantri (RM) Parrikar for his part, made several statements which have muddied the OROP waters already made murky by bureaucrats, and angered the veterans. First he said that the veterans should not expect 100% of their OROP demand to be agreed to. Then he said that India has not fought a war for decades, implying that soldiers need to hone their fighting skills and not bother about pay and pension. Most recently, he has gone to the extent of saying that the veterans agitation and protest is “not soldier-like”. This is very much in keeping with the present government’s practice of denigrating protests which oppose or criticize its policies, decisions or actions.

The government’s notification of OROP is a seriously diluted version of the concept of OROP on seven major counts. But the single most important issue which affects the demography of the military and consequent efficiency is the mischievous concept of premature retirement (PMR) as a means to deny OROP for the veterans of the future, that is, today’s serving soldier.

The effect of “No-OROP-for-PMR” is to encourage an “older” military which will be physically and motivationally less able to withstand the rigours of military service in the field. The numbers of disgruntled men and officers will increase as they stagnate in their rank and wait to reach the age of retirement in their rank, so as to not lose the benefit of OROP. Obviously, whenever possible, such soldiers will avoid hard training and diligent work. Disciplinary cases will multiply, and the negative loop will gain speed at the cost of preparedness for battle. Battles and wars cannot be fought, leave alone won, when the man-behind-the-gun is sullen, unhappy and demotivated due to the way his Service and his government treats him. The soldier who has taken an oath to fight for his country even at risk of death or disabling injury, will ask himself if he was mistaken.

The whole country was shocked at the police manhandling of peacefully agitating veterans at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on August 14. From this pre-meditated humiliation by the government, the military veterans understood that the government would surely prevaricate on the OROP demand. And their fears have come true.

The veterans’ peaceful and dignified agitation has crossed 150 days, and its leaders are increasingly hard put to control hotheads among them who are advising a more confrontational and aggressive approach. But what perhaps has irrevocably hardened the veterans’ stance against the politician-bureaucrat nexus is PM Modi’s treatment of the veterans’ decades-old demand of OROP as a Diwali ‘gift’. Much worse, No-OROP-for-PMR has caused much discussion among serving soldiers of all ranks. They will remain silent because of the constraints of military law, but their disappointment and anger will inevitably translate into lowered morale and lowered battle efficiency, and compromising national security.

The seed of distrust of the politician-bureaucrat nexus among serving and retired faujis was sown and germinated during PM Manmohan Singh‘s watch. This seedling has been growing vigorously in the past year. The fact that the army’s adjutant general has been meeting veterans in order to coax them to accept the diluted OROP formula, displays the supine attitude or worse, of the present top military leadership. Serving soldiers are critical of the equivocating role of their Service chiefs, who have effectively degraded the trust of subordinate ranks in the higher command structure.

The political class appears to remain ignorant of the organic link between military veterans and serving soldiers. What affects the soldier affects the veteran and vice versa, and today’s soldier is tomorrow’s veteran. Especially in the army, the largest of the armed forces, the Jawan and junior officer actually face the enemy, and in situations of extreme peril, rely entirely on mutual trust, team-work and training for individual survival and operational success. The morale of the fighting man is the glue that cements trust with team-work. Low morale spells botched operations, casualties, discipline problems and lost battles. The effect on serving soldiers of government’s “gift” of OROP, is in the womb of time.

The PM, as the executive head of government, needs to take responsibility for present nose-diving civil-military relations, which affect national security. This cannot be shrugged off as collective responsibility of the BJP as done for its Bihar defeat. But taking responsibility is one thing and doing something about it is another. With his post-Bihar vulnerability within his own party, PM Modi seems unlikely to do either.

The deficiencies of equipment, weapons and ammunition from UPA days persists, with no improvement since May 2014. It is piquant that the deficiencies were boldly pointed out by then-COAS Gen V.K.Singh, the world knows how he paid for his “insolence”, and was driven into the arms of the BJP on retirement. Though he is a minister in the ruling dispensation, India’s military capability remains degraded.

India’s military has fought and won battles “fighting with what we have” (especially 1965 and Kargil 1999), because the morale of the soldier was high, and he placed value on his oath to defend and serve his country even at the risk of life and limb. India’s military proved that with high morale and rigorous training, the man-behind-the-gun could compensate for lack of military material. But now, the morale situation worries anybody with concern for national security. Thus today, the nation’s military suffers triple disadvantages, namely, failing trust in the political leadership,severe deficiencies in material, and lowered morale of the fighting man and his leaders.

The shenanigans of the politician-bureaucrat nexus regarding OROP adversely affecting the morale of India’s armed forces will be appreciated if not celebrated with crackers by Pakistan’s military. The strategically ignorant, chronically myopic, blatantly arrogant politician-bureaucrat nexus has irreversibly harmed India by harming its own armed forces. India’s political sovereignty and territorial integrity are at risk, as governments’ last bastion for both domestic governance and external security is being knowingly or unknowingly emasculated. PM Modi has much to think about.

(Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired in 1996 as Additional DG Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ AG’s Branch. He holds a PhD degree in Structural Dynamics from I.I.T, Madras. He is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA, in international studies. With over 450 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his current area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.)