If Only the OROP Episode was not Turned Into a Political Spectacle

The ruling BJP could have handled the OROP episode better.

4 min read
As regards making the military in India integral to the decision-making process, it was a case of the blind leading the blind. (Photo: PTI)

Redeeming Army’s Pride

  • The military dabbling with several issues such as reduction of pay, neglect of modernisation and non-provision of essential equipment
  • A proud moment like OROP was reduced to a political spectacle due to the indecisiveness of the government
  • Including the military in decision-making process would strengthen the politico-military relations

In an earlier article on One-Rank-One-Pension (OROP), I had averred that the agitation for OROP which unfortunately overflowed on to Jantar Mantar in Delhi, was merely symptomatic of a disease. The disease per se has been eating into the vitals of civil- military relations since independence.

A lack of authority and direction is reflected not only from the political leadership, but also the bureaucracy. Checks and balances adapted from the white hall system of office management were either deliberately diluted, circumvented or defaced so that accountability of the politico-bureaucratic edifice was mired in ambiguity and ambivalence.


Civil-Military Relations

The military had also faced numerous hurdles, which, among other things, included adjusting to the post war reorganisation of leftover divided military personnel, equipment and infrastructure, and most of all adapting to a leadership which was wary of coups; consequent to a number of military takeover in the immediate neighbourhood.

Given that there was insufficient documentation or studies related to civil-military relations until the seminal work on the subject by Samuel Huntington in 1956, there were no models to follow other than the British and the American experience.

The former had no written constitution and the latter had a Presidential system with somewhat vague guidelines on civilian control of the military. In retrospect, therefore, with regards to making the military in India integral to the decision-making process, it was a case of the blind leading the blind.


Say of the Military

Suppression of the military was perhaps a deliberate unarticulated political mandate, or at best a fortuitous outcome of a confused politico-bureaucratic nexus. Consequently, keeping the military out of all decision making structures, reduction of pay, allowances and pension, neglect of modernisation, non-provision of essential equipment and ordnance, along with a host of other issues continued to torment the military.

The poor choice of RMs in many cases accentuated the crisis. In brief, the military had neither a voice in Parliament, nor the ears of the RM and PM. That the morale of the military was sustained to win battles, both with the enemies of India and enemies within, speaks well of the military leadership.

(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Lessons from the OROP Episode

When the present government came to power there were indications for the first time after a decade, that issues tormenting the military in India would be substantially addressed. The leadership appeared to be aware of the need to first address issues related to the IZZAT (honour) of a soldier which would lead to amelioration of the negative effects of dragging the affairs of the soldier to tribunals and courts of India.

The OROP episode enabled the fractured community of Ex-Servicemen Movement (ESM) to get their act together for the first time, while the government failed to engage them in a dialogue or a negotiation which would lead to a joint resolution through discussions and transparency.

The country was hence a witness to a theatrical performance of the absurd. Retired soldiers on a fast-unto-death, television cameras in search of TRPs and civil society, a passive and indifferent observer. Contrast it to the lakhs of people who supported the IAC movement and more recently the spectacle at Ahmedabad. The soldier in angst had little support from the civil society.

(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Sad Spectacle by the Government

Letters written by retired Chiefs, perhaps did not receive even a routine acknowledgement from the office of the ironically titled Supreme Commander, who has no executive powers to help his anguished soldiers.

After making a mess of the optics at Jantar Mantar, the government decided to leak their decisions to the media a day before the final announcement. To cap it all, at the final session, the RM bowled a googly of VRS.

If the RM had been misled or the Chiefs in company of the minister were not consulted about the faux pas, a few heads ought to roll. Thus a moment of glory and historical importance was reduced to a sad spectacle of a bumbling government-through serendipity- nudging the long overdue Prime Minister’s intervention. A display of less than desirable cohesion, coherence and transparency in decision-making.

Surely India deserves better.

If any government wishes to correct the mistakes of the past and strengthen the much desired politico-military interface, the first action is to bring the military into the decision-making structure, so that the military too would be accountable to the people of India, through parliamentary oversight.

There are perfectly good integrated models to follow today than those which existed in 1947. What is missing until now, is the will to execute institutional reforms.

Tempus fugit.

(The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command)

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