Tuesday, 15 September 2015


   In my thirty-five years in government I have rarely seen an explosive issue being mismanaged as amateurishly as the OROP conundrum has been- and I've seen quite a few goof-ups, believe  me! Considering that successive governments have had forty years to consider the issue, one would have expected that they would have prepared a blue-print for their response-the give and take of all negotiations- and defused it long before the almost mutinous situation we have now reached. As someone said-sitting on the fence for too long makes the iron enter your soul ( and if the fence breaks other, more substantial things can enter places other than the soul !). This is what has happened to Mr. Modi's government, and to the Ex-servicemen Movement( ESM) too, for the latter's over vaunting ambition has messed up matters for it also.
  To begin with, both the Congress and Mr. Vajpayee's govt. were right in not touching the OROP demand with a barge pole- its a financial monstrosity which can, and will, bankrupt the country, has no parallel anywhere in the world, and defies logic. They were dead wrong, however, in not addressing the underlying issues and grievances which confer a semblance of justification in the demand for OROP. These include: anomalies in salaries/scales/promotions as compared to the civil services( of which the IAS is the generally accepted hated face!), not all of which can be justified, though some can; the deep distrust between the military and the political/ executive establishment; and most important of all, the plight of the ordinary jawan who retires at 35 with no other future prospect than to become a security guard in some agency, his years of training and fighting skills consigned to the dustbin.
  Mr. Modi had a chance to address this Herculean challenge, with his majority and unquestioned hold over both the party and the government. But he proved that at the end of the day he is just a politician, after all- better packaged and clothed, certainly, but with the fatal weakness of all politicians viz.-open your mouth first and think later. His thrice reiterated promise of sanctioning OROP immediately- on a battlefield, on an aircraft carrier and at the Red Fort- put the fat in the fire which has become a conflagration now. He forgot the cardinal truth which all politicians would do well to remember, one enunciated by Mario Cumo many years ago- " You can campaign in poetry but you have to govern in prose." The tragedy with Mr. Modi is that he didn't have to open his mouth at all because the campaigning was long over when he did so!
  As I had suggested in an earlier blog Mr. Modi should have ignored the OROP demand and done an outflanking manoeuvre by tackling the underlying issues. He should have asked himself the following questions:
*  Why is it that OROP has been allowed to only the elite few in the Apex scale? Since this is the main heartburn its abolition should have been considered seriously across the board, including Judges,CVC, CAG, UPSC Chairman, Cabinet Secretary, three and four star Generals and other entitled bureaucrats.
*  How do we compensate army officers for their restricted promotions due to the pyramidial structure of the armed forces? Why not allow some form of NFU to them also, that does not interfere with the chain of command- say, allow the next higher scale after a specified number of years even if it is not a promotion to that post ? This would have ensured that a Colonel. for example, retired in a Brigadier's scale even if he could not be promoted to that post, with all the ensuing pensionary benefits of the higher scale.
* Is it not a gross injustice, and a waste of a valuable national resource, to retire highly trained and disciplined soldiers at the age of 35 ? Why can we not absorb them against the 50000 odd vacancies in the para military forces every year, with their pay and seniority protected? There would be self serving opposition from vested interests within the PMFs, naturally, but this can be handled with a mixture of tact and firmness: of what use is an absolute majority in Parliament, after all ? Is it to be used only for the purpose of hiking the allowances of MPs ?
  If Mr. Modi ( and a suddenly silent Mr. Jaitley) had addressed just these three issues immediately on assuming office the current agitation under the able but inflexible leadership of Major-General Satbir Singh would have been a non-starter. There would have been no raison d'etre for any agitation, because correction of the anomalies listed above would have resolved 90% of the GENUINE grievances of the armed forces, and the assumed grievances should have been dismissed firmly. And all this would have been achieved at a far more bearable cost to the nation, and without creating the anomalous mess we are now saddled with.
  The government's short-sighted and hasty announcement of a truncated OROP  last week has satisfied no one. The ESM's agitation continues, General Satbir Singh draws more TRPs and eyeballs than Sunny Leone ( a bright political future undoubtedly awaits him), the ESM has splintered into different factions, making the task of negotiation that much more difficult, civilian employees through their apex body the NCJCM have submitted a memorandum to the 7th Pay Commission demanding OROP for all civil employees, the exchequer is poorer by 20000 crores this financial year and God only knows by how much in the coming years, the distrust between the government and the military has become wider, the armed forces appear to have mounted a disturbing challenge to the government. In an article in the Business Standard today Col ( Retd.) Ajai Shukla has stated that the ESM has " tasted blood" and will not back down. He has predicted that their next demand is already on the anvil- NFU for the military. The bureaucracy is no doubt preparing its own charter, including canteen facilities( termed OROB- One Rate One Bottle !), rank pay, Difficult Posting Allowance, free rations, and what not. Its going to be a hard winter of discontent for Mr. Modi's government and he has only himself to blame.
  Administering the right medicine at the right time is what wise governance is about. What Mr. Modi has done instead by his inept handling of the situation is to convert the HEAP BIG CHIEF into the HEAP BIG SHIT, and its about to hit the fan.


  1. In this brilliant analysis / post mortem of the current government's blunders on this OROP demand, you've predicted the consequences of opening this Pandora's box with ill-advised announcements and hasty concessions. Some angry reactions I see in the Hill Post comments are only to be expected - self interest generally wins out over objectivity. You are an exception here. I'm referring to your views going back to your first post on the subject about discontinuing OROP altogether for everyone. This hits you hard personally - something these folks critical of you should appreciate, but don't.

    1. Thanks, Sandip. Unfortunately, objectivity has been the first casualty in this ongoing and acrimonious dispute. It has to do with a deep-seated sense of grievance on the part of the armed forces combined with their refusal to accept that in a democracy the civilian executive will always be at the helm of policy making. We are now being pushed into a situation where there is a real danger of a direct confrontation between the two wings of government. There is now a need for some bold, non-partisan statesmanship which, however, is nowhere in evidence. While the govt( read PMO) is its usual, arrogant, non-communicative self the opposition parties see this as an opportunity to snipe at the government. Everyone here is playing with fire, including the ex-servicemen and the media. The loot is on and the devil take the hindmost !

  2. What is your rational answer to :-
    a) Defence forces have differential and preferential salaries in all the modern democracies or otherwise in the present world. (Ref. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/explained-one-rank-one-pension-retired-hurt/#sthash.fTUuFrm5.dpuf )
    b) Step by Step reduction in the salaries , then in pension and consequently in pensionary benefits surely must have some rational logic
    c) What is your view on early termination or compulsion for leaving a well earned/established Govt job where no lateral job absorbsion is guaranteed (do not give dumb answer stating that Service conditions when joining were abundantly clear as this was the primary reason for the differential pay , pension and a nations obligation)
    d) Why the old systematical migration in IPS and/or CPF for SSC officers and like in emergency commission after 1962 cannot be continued with similar route for below officer level also devised.
    e) How do you justify NFFU only for select club and more importantly designing the career progression , the structure and inter-service hierarchy such way that it establishes clear advantage in promotion , salary and thus pension. More glaring is award of Apex scale to more than 95% to one arm which ultimately negates the very essence of the point(a) above.
    f) Do you think the political supremacy on the defence forces is same as bureaucratic supremacy ?