By Lt Gen PG Kamath (Veteran)
It was post 1971 and the nation was euphoric. Our countrymen were lauding the Indian Armed Forces for a spectacular victory that had changed the geography of the sub-continent. The nation was savouring the victory and more than 97,368 prisoners were in our Prisoners of War Camps.
It was the second largest surrender in the military history; second only to the surrender of Gen Von Paulus, Germany, 6th Army at Stalingrad in the Second World War. The Armed Forces were feted everywhere for its courage and the people were convinced that it was one instrument that would never let the country down.
Amid this euphoria, there were 4000 families, who had lost their fathers/sons/husbands in the war. Another 10,000 were wounded and maimed for life. They were picking up the lost threads of life to continue their journey in the forbidding world. However, their sorrow was lost amid the mirth, laughter and jubilation of victory.
Unknown to the services, a band of bureaucrats were conspiring as to how to cut the Armed Forces to size. Defence Secretary was Mr KB Lal, who was literally there for the entire duration of the Third Pay Commission. He was the one, who provided the inputs to the Third Pay Commission.
The Commission was constituted a year before the war and concluded two years after it. Its final recommendation marginalising the Armed Forces was made public two months after Field Marshal Manekshaw relinquished the post of Chief. Indeed, it was a clever move as the most popular person in the country was not able to take cudgels against the government.
This Pay Commission cut the Armed Forces to size for winning the war for the country.
Even Field Marshal Manekshaw was not spared; more of it later. ‘Ingratitude unkinder than the winters wind’ to adopt Shakespearean phrase to an ungrateful government. How did the government go about the act?
Firstly, they abolished a separate Pay Commission for the Armed Forces and formulated an equivalence between the Armed Forces and ‘Civilians’. It was here that the Pay Commission struck its vilest blow when they considered that ‘a trained infantry soldier with three years of service is below a skilled labour. Little do they know that it is the infantry soldier who does the actual fighting and charges the enemy with naked bayonet literally on the very front edge of the battle and makes eye and steel contact with the enemy.
It is the infantry soldier who bears the brunt of more than 90% of casualty in all wars and yet he was considered the lowest strata to base their comparison. Going by the same logic, does it not mean that the infantry soldier with less than three years’ service was a semi-skilled/unskilled labour? Just mark the irony of the sinister and ignorant move! Rest of the soldiers were equated based on this preposterous formulae!
Next step was to reduce the percentage of pension for the Armed Forces. The OROP that was effective till 1972, was annulled after the Third Pay Commission. A soldier then served only for 15 years and went on pension at the ages ranging from 33 years to 36 years of age. In view of this, his pension was 70% of his basic pay and an officer’s pension was 50% of his basic pay as the bulk of them retired at 50 years of age.
The civilian counterparts were getting only 30% of their basic pay as pension. Please note that they served till they were 58 years of age (now 60 years) as against the soldiers who retired a quarter century earlier.
The wretched Third Pay Commission did not consider the additional 25 years of service his civilian counterpart served and raised their pension to 50% and reduced a soldiers pension from 70% to 50% in order to achieve the so-called ‘parity’. Further, the government put mandatory 33 years of service for full pension fully knowing that the soldier then retired after 15 years of service.
They further, as a largesse, made a seemingly generous gesture to the Armed Forces by pegging the mandatory service for full pension (50%) to 25 years. Just look at the clever move; fully knowing that the soldier retired after 15 years of service. Thus the soldier in effect got only 30% of pay after 15 years of service, as extrapolated from full pension of 50% of pay with 25 years of service.
Thus the government ingeniously cut a soldiers pension from 70% to 30% of pay, at the same time enhancing the civilian pension from 30% to 50%. Look at the perfidy; how can possibly a government run down its own Armed Forces! It is indeed a remarkable feat from a nation that was a slave nation for over two centuries, yet disregards her Armed Forces who ensure her hard earned freedom!
Our Defence Ministry was hand in glove with these proposals. There was not a whimper of protest to set right the injustice. The soldiers had to pay heavily for having won the war for the country. Their travails were not over; more was yet to come!
One would wonder why did the soldiers not protest against the brash injustice perpetrated on them? It would be difficult to believe, as those were the times the officers, in particular, were told that politics and pay were not to be discussed. They were naïve and had full faith in the government that, in the long run, no injustice would be done to them. This disarming naivety of our officers appears incomprehensible now; but it was true then.
Hence the entire masterstroke of cutting the forces to size by impoverishing them was done with so much of dexterity, it took us couple of decades to realise its negative impact.
Mrs Gandhi was feted and glorified as ‘Durga’ as she basked in the limelight of victory and self-adulation. However, she proved to be the daughter of her illustrious father by sharing the same antipathy and disdain towards the Armed Forces. She was a smart women, hence concealed it to a great extent with outer façade of support and derived maximum political mileage of the victory.
The running down of the Armed Forces in the Third Pay Commission could not have been done without her active and positive consent.
Their next target was the most popular figure in the country– Field Marshal Manekshaw. He was made a Field Marshall and the appointment was active for life, though ceremonial in nature. A Field Marshall does not retire and continues to wear his five star rank for life. He was entitled to pay and allowances for life. The bureaucrats who were literally jealous of his popularity ensured that he did not get his pay and allowances, lo and behold, for the next 36 years. Finally a lump sum of Rs 1.60 crore of arrears was released to him on intervention by then President Abdul Kalam.
A nondescript bureaucrat gave him his pension dues on his deathbed in June 2007 a few days before he breathed his last. Isn’t it a national tragedy? Don’t you sometimes feel whether the country deserves selfless service from its soldiers? Can any country on this earth be more ungrateful towards her soldiers? What a great victory for the MoD for destroying the soldiers’ pride!
Let us now analyse as to why a soldier fights. Why does he give his life for a cause? What makes him charge through a fusillade of bullets and splinters against sure death and injury, overcoming the instinct of self-preservation? Why is he prepared to make his ultimate sacrifice and bid goodbye to the world? Why does he not think of his loving wife, his innocent children, his aged parents and the living world of mirth and bliss; knowing he has not even spent a quarter of his life? Why all his near and dear ones pale in to insignificance and he sees only his mission like Arjuna only seeing the eye of the bird?
All these questions can be answered in two words: His Pride.
It is his professional pride that makes him a hero. He wants to be a hero before his comrades, before his superiors, in his unit and in his country. He is a hero of his village and a hero in front of his parents. He is a hero to his wife and a superhero to his children. He also knows that he is the last bastion of the nation and he is the last trump card in the hands of his nation. He knows that if he fails, the nation fails. It is this emotion that drives him towards mission accomplishment.
It is all the way Pride! Pride! And Pride. It is nothing else but ‘Pride’.
Sad to say, it is exactly that the governments of his own country wants to deprive him of. He has been badgered, humiliated, impoverished and made a laughing stock in all the successive pay commissions. His status has been lowered, time and again, by insensitive governments.
How can noble thoughts like sacrifice, mission, cause, patriotism and pride be ever understood by self-serving, sly and scheming bureaucracy?
A soldiers pride has taken a beating and believe me, sir, it would be a long and painful time to build it again.
Mr Prime Minister! Before you forget history, in June 1932, President Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the US, ordered firing on the veterans of First World War for demanding the promised bonus. Two veterans were killed and several injured. Herbert Hoover lost the election with a devastating defeat and has gone down in history as a lacklustre President. The Great Depression may have contributed to his rout but the firing on veterans brought him great disrepute. Mr Prime Minister! You are certainly made of a better stuff than Herbert Hoover!
Enough has been said of ‘OROP’ and nothing more needs to be said about it. Supreme court has granted it and parliamentary committee has approved it. Not a single political party has opposed it, but it is still undone? For the past 70 days agitation is on and brute force of police has been unleashed on them.
Dear Prime Minister! I hope you have seen the sad picture of a proud veteran trying to fight his tears and another veteran whose shirt with medals torn asunder withstanding the criminal use of force against him with quiet dignity and equanimity. It is still not too late to make amends.
It reminds me the words of Edmond Burke, “Invention is exhausted/ Reason is fatigued,/ Experience has given its judgement, but/ Obstinacy remains unconquered”.
Mr Prime Minister! I believe you have still the ability to overrule small minions around you, who do not have the nation in their heart and are bent upon murdering the ‘Pride in a Soldier’.
Remember ‘Soldiers’ Pride is Nation’s Security’. You kill his pride; you endanger the nation’s security.
(Author is a veteran of Indian Army and chooses not to use ‘retd’ in his rank. Views expressed are personal.)