Days before the Election commission of India (ECI) announces the dates for the Bihar assembly polls, the Government conceded forty-year-old demands of millions of ex-military men, who were threatening to campaign against the BJP in the crucial assembly polls. But the drama may not be over yet.
The agitating veterans have rejected the terms of the OROP and decided to continue with their hunger strike and protests. The last minute exclusion of those who opt for voluntary retirement from service from the benefit of the OROP has upset the veterans in a big way. They are also unhappy over rejections of their demand that equalization of pension should be done after every two year instead of five years as announced by the Government. A late night meeting with the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar might have smoothed their feelings and it now remains to be seen if the veterans will continue the stir.
Not surprisingly, there was no celebration or fireworks even after the Government conceded several major demands of the ex-servicemen. Of course, a section of the ex-servicemen did distribute sweets and marched to the India Gate here to celebrate the occasion, but another bigger section remained committed to carry forward the protest.
“We are happy that the Government has accepted the principle of OROP, but we are not satisfied as they have not accepted majority of our demands…“
– Major General Satbir Singh (retd.), who has been spearheading the veterans’ agitation for OROP.
“The pension must be equalised after two years and the OROP should be extended to those who seek voluntary retirement after completing their full terms,” he said..
As the standoff continues between the government and veterans, the Bihar poll will be on the radar of both the sides. Bihar has nearly one hundred thousand ex-army men and their unhappiness could affect the BJP prospect in the state, because they could also influence the votes of their near and dear ones, friends and groups.
“If the government does not accept our demand, then we might be forced to campaign against the BJP in the Bihar elections,” said Maj Gen) ret) Satibir Singh.
The government unilaterally decided to announce the OROP scheme on Saturday because it ran out of time: The election commission is bound to come out with the poll dates any day now after which the model code of conduct would be in place and the government is restrained from going ahead with the OROP until the end of the polls. The veterans obviously sensed the desperation of the government and hardened their stance. Many thought that the threat to campaign against the BJP in Bihar was seen as a ploy by them to snatch an agreement from the government at gunpoint.
In the end there were no winners in the game. While the opposition parties tried to pick loopholes in the scheme offered by the Modi regime, it was clear that the veterans would also be required to do some serious introspection. After 82 days of continuous sit-in protests and indefinite hunger strikes, the numbers at Jantar mantra has started diminishing and the movement stands badly divided. Still, in the run-up to the Bihar polls, the BJP and the Government are expected to make an all out effort to win over these sulking veterans.
The reaction of the veterans, the BJP, the Congress and several other political parties showed that the issue of the OROP has taken a political color and everyone was trying to exploit the sentiments of the veterans. The Congress, which committed the original sin by reducing the pension of the veterans in 1970 when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, is shamelessly attacking the BJP government for letting down the veterans. Even during the last ten years of its rule at the centre, the Congress did little to address this issue. Still, both former Defense minister A K Antony and former Telecom minister Kapil Sibal took on the Modi government and accused it of betraying the trust of the jawans.
On the other hand, the BJP tries to milk the OROP cow to its own political advantage. Top BJP leaders including party chief Amit Shah were quick to congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi for standing by the veterans and meeting their age old demand.
And why not. Potential beneficiaries of OROP are about 2.6 million ex-servicemen, and 60,000 widows, including war widows, i. e. a combined total of 3.2 million, of whom about 86% are widows, JCOs, NCOs, and other ranks, about 14% are officers. Out of the estimated outlay on OROP of ₹8400 crores ($1.269 billion) about ₹6200 crores ($937 million) will be on account of Widows, JCOs, NCOs, and other ranks, and about 2200 for Officers.
Here is the highlights of Parrikar’s announcement on the OROP:
- The Government will implement the OROP from July 1, 2014 and the base year would be 2013.
- Personnel who retire voluntarily will not be covered under OROP scheme. But those who were wounded in a war or were disabled due to it and those who boarded out will be covered.
- The estimated cost to implement OROP is between Rs 8,000 crore to Rs 10,000.
- Pension of ex-servicemen will be revised every five years.
- Re-fixed pension will be the average of minimum and maximum pension in 2013.
- The OROP arrears to be paid in 4 half-yearly installments.
- Those drawing pensions above the average will be protected.
1. The conversion rate used in this blog is 1 US Dollar = 66.17 rupees
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