OROP: Silence gives way to an Opportunity

October 12, 2015

By Gautam Navlakha

Left and democratic forces’ approach towards the military sector in India has been patchy and largely inconsequential. Issues of wars at home, politics of deniability, deliberate obfuscation of the ‘dirty’ nature of wars at home, seamier side of constructing a nation-state, privileging military suppression over democratic resolution, nuclear arms….all and more  are concerns which have troubled us. The functioning of the armed forces, its social composition, stratification and contradiction between officer and rank-and-file, have been in public domain without arousing much beyond, and yet these ought to be of utmost concern if ‘repressive arm of the state’ has to be explained and understood. Let us also remember that a quarter of annual budget of Government of India is allocated to the military sector and every time there is call  for additional funds it is met at the cost of either armed forces own Capital Budget or by squeezing allocations for social sector. Government of ‘Pracharaks’ is hell bent on opening the military sector to the predatory international military industry with India’s ‘robber barons’ as comprador.(a) Surely in the age of capitalist hegemony, public funds and how they are spent, where do they go, and what objective is all this part of, should be a subject matter of interest? So, there are issues worth considering and linkages worth exploring.

Recall how copious tears are shed over a soldier and ‘fauji’ but their service related issues are not a subject matter of discussion. It is regarded as conventional wisdom to decry politicization of armed forces, when as a matter of fact that’s precisely what they are engaged in primarily waging war against our own people at home. War is continuation of politics. So what is that politics which privileges military suppression and is indifferent to democratic resolutions? And how come no one questions veto power Army has  come to exercise over withdrawal of forces from hinterland as well as removal of AFSPA from J&K, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland? To assert that ‘faujis’ should not have an opinion, therefore, defies logic because they are carrying out politics of bloodshed  and are conditioned and trained to follow orders and obey command. And officers are loath to give up the power and pelf which they enjoy due to prolonged wars at home. So what understanding do the officers and soldiers have being part of the regime of suppression say of Muslims in J&K? Did they join the services because they were driven to ‘serve the country’ or was it lack of anything else? How do they perceive Muslims? So what opinion do they actually have? Is not the high incidence of trauma/stress/PTDS, suicides, fratricide, officer-rank clashes, early retirement due to ‘burnout’…a reflection of demoralization in rank and file? This filters through so many field reports in the media from theatres of war when something sensational happens. The fact is that whichever theatre of war they are put in is a Conflict Zone because contestations are sharp.  It could be rightful assertion for self-determination, or against predatory ‘development’ being pursued. And yet, the soldiers don’t get heard.

                                                       Pracharak who was too clever by half

The very fact that Pracharak Narendra Modi, leading up to the elections of 2014, used the rally at Rewari (Haryana) in September 2013 to announce that if elected he will implement One Rank One Pension (OROP), gave rise to expectations. So the battle going on from 1973 when the pension rules were tweaked to their detriment and despite periodic piecemeal concessions, appeared to be close to being met. The fear that ex-servicemen were succumbing to ‘Pracharak’s vacuous promises, drove the UPA II in February 2014 to concede the demand albeit in principle, having opposed it for nearly 10 years, leaving the working out of the actual details for the next Government. This last minute change of heart did not help the Congress led UPA II but  gave a boost to  RSS-BJP to make  inroads into the military sector’s most vital area, direct access to its personnel for RSS to do its usual very worst. The VD Savarkar, of surrender fame, had called for to “militarise Hinduism”. It is important to note that ‘Abhinav Bharat’, headed by Himadri Savarkar (his daughter in law)  implicated in Hindutva terror cases, is linked to Nasik based Bhonsale Military School, that prepares students for armed forces. Their pledge is to construct “Hindu Rashtra”. There are many more such institutions. In other words this inroad into armed forces has been on for long time. However, the access to governmental power has opened up this sector to RSS several-fold. However, as the agitation launched by the personnel in 2015 has shown that it is not going to be  a smooth sailing. The machinations to  split the ex-servicemen, crackdown on agitating ex-servicemen in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar by notorious Delhi Police controlled by Pracharak Rajnath Singh, the Union Home Minister, and the confusing signals from the Government over OROP have confounded even the ‘faithfuls’, and blunted RSS’s moves into the military sector, with a dominant group feeling betrayed by the Modi Sarkar.

Independent of this the agitation over OROP has brought forth into the open fault lines and provided us with an insight into a sector that has hitherto remained  “closed”, going beyond the issue of financial ‘burden’ it will cause. But it also provides us with a vantage point to understand the need for democratisation of the armed forces i.e.  doing away with the legal immunity from prosecution enjoyed by armed forces when fighting our own people. There is documented evidence of egregious war crimes committed by India’s armed forces of the union. Crimes of torture and enforced disappearance or genocide are crimes marked by their absence in Indian criminal jurisprudence in actuality. It is predominately a force engaged in war against our own people, and drawn from the working people.

In 2012 for 60,000 army posts 35 lakhs applied or  that in UP for 368 Class IV job of a peon they received 23.25 lakh applicants which included 252 PhDs, 25,000 post graduates, 1.52 lakh graduates, 7.5 lakhs class XII, 11.21 lakhs class X pass and 8 lakhs had cleared class VIII. Eligibility was class V. (“250 Phds among 23 lakhs”, Lalmani Verma, Indian Express 17/09/2015). It is this human mass of educated/undereducated unemployed, which provides the cannon fodder for the rulers to carry out wars of suppression. How are they trained to kill their own and through what process of indoctrination, overlooking contestations and the popular support for insurgency, is followed are obvious questions that come to mind. What happens to ‘naysayers’ in the armed forces. Similarly, the rules which govern the jawans and therefore their service conditions ought to be a matter of interest.

 Lt General Bhopinder Singh wrote in The Tribune (“OROP & Collateral damage”; 28/09/2015)  that there were three casualties of  OROP agitation; apart from the one between military civilian bureaucracy, there is inter military and Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) tussle and competition, and thirdly he mentions the officer-soldier divide, obliquely pointing towards the parallel agitation by Personnel Below Officer Rank in Delhi in August 2-6 2015. So, the agitation over ‘One Rank One Pension’ has offered us an opportunity to take this sector more seriously and scrutinize it more closely.

The fear of an exponential increase in costs, were OROP  to be conceded, has given rise to questions of cutting down the force size. Cutting down numbers requires that we ask why was there an increase in the first place? Why were they recruited?  In other words, concerns over financial liability, has unwittingly triggered questions about why Indian Army augments manpower when world over armies are reducing their manpower size. Should there be lateral absorption of Army jawans into CPMFs? Can savings be effected through tinkering here and there. These proposals remain trapped in a timid approach, a penny pinching exercise and, therefore, unable to raise uncomfortable questions or even to appreciate the socio-economic logic of militarization and the policy of military suppression, which lies beneath this. Therefore, we also fail to appreciate the significance of the politicization of retired Armed Forces personnel. Like it or not the genie cannot be put back in the bottle.

                                                                 What is OROP?

 What is OROP and what does it entail? It means, as per the Standing Committee for Defense of  Parliament,  that all retired soldiers of the same rank with the same length of service receive the same pension, irrespective of their date of retirement. An army soldier retires at 35, while in paramilitary formations personnel carry on till 60. There are 24 lakh ex-servicemen with 600,000 widows. Thus for serving 14 lakh strong armed forces there are 30 lakh pensioners. Every year 60,000 persons retire so the ratio between serving and retirees will continue to get skewed in favour of latter.  Difference between civil and defence employees is that whereas the former since 2004 are covered by National Pension Scheme, which is a contributory pension, where 10% of basic  salary (and a matching amount from government) makes up the scheme. The entire burden of OROP is borne by the public exchequer. It is estimated that in fiscal year 2015-16 GoI needs Rs 8-10,000 crores as recurring and Rs 12-14,000 crores as arrears, under the ‘Pracharak’ version of OROP. Thus anywhere between Rs 22,000 to 24,000 cr additional funds would be needed. With Seventh Pay Commission Award effective from January 2016 for all central government employees barring the services, the pent up feeling of discrimination which service personnel perceive, would not subside.

Under the aegis of Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM) the sepoys and officers of the Indian army have been protesting Government’s refusal to concede their demand for One-Rank-One-Pension (OROP). In a rank conscious and hierarchical organization as armed forces these anomalies cause much heartburn. Ex servicemen point out that OROP applies to central services (IAS, IPS, IFS etc) under Non Functional Upgradation (NFU) which means that when a officer gets promoted to a higher rank, then his batch mates whichever service they are part of, automatically in two years (biannual equalization) get the same raise. Secondly the central services are protected by Time Scale promotion in their home states. Thirdly, all of the civil servants reach apex salary scale. In contrast military pyramid is steep. As a result out of every 100 officer  in a batch 30-40 selected as Colonels, 10-12 out of them become Brigadiers, 4-5 of them Major General and 1-2 make it to rank of Lt General. Thus 99% never reach apex salary scale. Only Lt Generals upwards reach the apex scale. Thus civil servants have ensured the best wage deal for themselves, along with miniscule minority of top echelons of armed forces.

It is worth noting that size of Indian Army, in 1947, was 285,000, Navy 16,000 and Air Force 30,000. Post 1962 Sino-India war saw a see-change and  the armed forces were authorized to raise their manpower in order to prepare for two front war against China and Pakistan. Thus troop strength for Army was raised to 825,000, a threefold increase. Subsequently in 1964 Navy was asked to raise their strength to 35,000 and the Air Force to 60,000. Since then it has continued to rise and at present Army’s strength is 1.2 million, Navy is 50,000 and Air Force 100,000. Significantly, during VP Malik’s tenure as Army Chief there was a move made to reduce the size of Army by 50,000. This was given up after the ‘limited’ war over Kargil in 1999. And indeed with the decision to raise a new Mountain Strike Corp, 35,000 more will be recruited and there is Recurrent Manpower Augmentation (RAM).

Although, the scenario of two front war still prevails, neither in 1965, 1971 or 1999, the three wars with Pakistan post-1962, saw China enter the war. Whatever be the  plus or minus side of two front war preparation, today analysts go so far as to claim that let alone two front war, even one front conventional war is improbable because of the presence of nuclear arms with the three regional antagonists. The “short & swift” war scenario of the Army Chief recently is reflection of that.  But what most observers miss out is that while two front or single front war, that too land wars, may be difficult to imagine, the manpower growth of Army has been in real fact not just been  linked to two front war, in reality linked as much to its counter insurgency role, fighting “enemies” at home, which picked up after 1971. Just as a reminder, the raising of Rashtriya Rifles in J&K in 1990s and its current strength of 75,000 is a phenomena that took place in 1990s. Assam Rifles raised by the Colonial rulers to protect Tea Garden estates in the North East has served Indian  rulers since the Transfer of Power and has 50,000 personnel. Indeed apart from this in all conflict zones inside India there has been manpower augmentation including in Army Regiments, Territorial Army, Assam Rifles (under administrative control of Army but attached to Ministry of Home Affairs), and other CPMFs etc. as part of Counter Insurgency (COIN) Doctrine to divide the ’enemy’ and use them (SPOs, unidentified gunmen, renegade militants) against their own as well as provide some employment generation in “Disturbed Area” to neutralize dissent through jobs.

The point is that two front war scenario apart, nearly 400,000 were recruited, above the 825,000 sanctioned post-1962. However,  going by actual deployment of forces in wars at home makes it evident that augmentation has a causal link  with wars at home. Because apart from recruitment  as part of COIN, a far larger part of  armed forces,  40% of Service Personnel and 90% of CPMFs, are deployed against our own people. Thus no less than 6-700,000 of service personnel and nearly 800,000 of CPMFs are fighting wars at home. Another way is to realize that at least 55% of the salary account of  Rs 75,000 crores of army personnel together with Rs 62,000 crores for CPMFs  goes towards meeting the wage bill of a force deployed for waging war against our own people. So, one issue ties up with another.

UPA government’s response to the demand for OROP is provided in a written reply by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to the unstarred question # 2268, on 15.12.2008, in the  Lok Sabha. “The demand for ‘One Rank One Pension’ was not found acceptable due to administrative, financial and legal reasons. Moreover, the pensionary benefits of the Personnel Below Officer Rank, particularly of the three ranks of Sepoy, Naik and Havildar, have been significantly increased by increasing weightage from 5 years to 10, 8 and 6 years respectively and by allowing pension of pre-01.01.1996 to be computed with reference to the maximum of the pay-scale introduced w.e.f. 01.01.1996.”  What were the “administrative, financial and legal reasons” were not spelled out. Five days prior to that, MoD was even more cryptic. On 10/12/08 Rajya Sabha was informed by the MoD, that  “Government has not found the demand (for OROP) acceptable.”

In response to another question on pension for ex-jawans who quit after 14 years the MoD answered on 16.04.2008 that “As per provisions, the minimum qualifying service required to earn service pension is 20 yrs for commissioned officers and 15 years for PBOR (Personnel Below Officer Rank). No change in the existing policy is presently contemplated by the Government.” Now until 1960s length of service of soldiers was seven year, which was first increased to nine years and then seventeen years. Thus whereas previously soldiers married after retirement at age 25 subsequent years saw the pattern change. Also unlike earlier when battalion commander was in his 30s the average age now is 40s. (The Tribune, 17 August 2007). In order to complete 17 years and retire by age 32 means that recruitment takes place when a person is 16 years old.

Now a pension is a deferred wage and it is a payment for services already rendered. IESM argues that persons rendering equal service, both in terms of quantum and quality, must receive equal pension.  However, pay commission award become effective only prospectively,  and  disparity between past pensioners and their younger equivalents, keeps widening. Sixth Pay Commission (SPC) award was no different.

However despite turning down OROP all these years, in February 2014, two months before the parliamentary polls the UPA II announced acceptance of OROP and allocated Rs 500 crores as a preliminary amount subject to more once all the details had been worked out. The Government of ‘Pracharaks’ repeated this and allocated Rs 1000 crores for 2014-15. But since then waffling has grown.

 The Prime Minister Narendra Modi observed that there are “too many definitions (of OROP) going around”, (Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Interview with the Chief Editor, Tribune , Chandigarh, 30 May, 2015.) Union Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar said that “the entire debate (over funds required for OROP) varied from Rs 500 crore to Rs 22,000 crore” ( “OROP Files with Finance Ministry, to be Implemented Soon: Parrikar,” New Delhi, 30 May, 2015. Hindustan Times ). Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke of Rs 6,000–8,000 crore needed for defence pensions, whereas the Controller General of Defence Accounts spoke of needing Rs 14,200 crore (30/05/2015 The Tribune). By mid September (Times of India 16/09/2015), he was insisting  that “you cannot create a liability which future generations have to pay”. What exactly did he mean when his own ministry also through its Minister of State Jayant Sinha said that “OROP will not be a burden”? (PTI, Economic Times, 08/09/2015) And the Ministry of Defense claimed that only 2.2% additional funds are needed and that rest could be recovered from “saving wastages”. (The Times of India 12/09/2015).

What “liability” is the finance minister then referring to? Fact is that Arun Jaitley was referring to the demand for OROP for annual equivalence, as spelled out by the Standing Committee of Parliament, whereas what the Government has actually offered/dangled is mired in ambiguity. Official offer is for equivalence every five years, without  clarifying how will 7th Pay Commission Award  impact them?  Furthermore, the parity principle, equivalence, is diluted by offering a rise calculated as average of maximum and minimum in every pay scale/batch, instead of raising it to maximum across the scale, If wage differential across the scale is say 5-75, and equivalence demands raising everyone to  75, which is what parity demands, then the average of max and min between say at 35 means reduction for some and rise for someone else. In other words the OROP recommended by the Standing Committee of Defense of Parliament, has been much diluted.

So the ‘Pracharaks’ are discovering that OROP is actually a noose around their financial neck. Having made it their electoral commitment, now to dismount the ‘horse’ of expectation is not so easy. Penny pinching by creating divisions, appeasing one section and excluding another or by tweaking the provisions one way or another to keep it ‘manageable’ has created distrust. Consider this. At 3 pm on 05/09/2015 the Union Minister for Defense Manohar Parrikar said those who’ retire voluntarily’ will not be covered by OROP. At 6.30 pm the very same day when he met a delegation of Ex Servicemen he pretended to be surprised about the inclusion of this clause. He then promised that within 20 days all residual problems will get resolved and a detailed order issued. However, the deadline has been shifted to another “2-4 weeks” for the formulations to be completed.  The fact is that 46% of ex servicemen, 98% of them PBOR,  take premature retirement and their grouse is that their pension is calculated on pro-rata basis.  Thus even after PM”s so called acceptance of OROP there is no clarity about what has been conceded and only a formal announcement can clear the air. The ‘Pracharaks’ are deliberately delaying the announcement to contain the backlash in Bihar polls. However, this has given rise to suspicion that RSS-BJP were only paying lip service to their cause by fanning jingoism before 2014 election. So, battle lines are drawn with ex-servicemen giving the Government up to 30th September to make formal written announcement, and if it does not happen they have warned of  renewing their agitation.

Although, OROP is a legitimate demand because it’s a question of pensionary benefits, for services already rendered and it must be paid.  It is also worth recalling that 33.1 lakh of civilian employees of the central government too are covered by National Pension Scheme. However, there are equally large if not larger number of those who work in the social sector, employed on honorariums, daily wages or as contract labour by the Government, and denied regular dignified wages and pension. Most of them are women, and work longer hours and are paid pittance (wages ranging from Rs 1500-7000). Even among government employees the top echelons have ensured OROP and better terms for themselves and this includes the top echelons of armed forces, who were quite happy to let other officers be left out.

In this sense we cannot be oblivious of the relatively privileged position of the top echelons of the government employees, followed by the officers and then soldiers. Simultaneously, a mass of working women and men, who earn pittance after putting in 12-14 hrs of work and yet unable to make two ends meet, compounded by virtually  nil pension for their old age. So in endorsing the demand of service personnel there is a need to raise the demand that every single Indian of working age must get a decent wage and guarantee of socially useful employment, by reducing the dependence on  military solutions and by opting for political resolution. At the same time there are issues other than wages and pension. We must also enquire if their struggle for parity has made them sensitive towards those who suffer/ed at their hands, when they, the civilians were fighting for their right to life of dignity, and soldiers busy suppressing them. With this caveat let’s move on.

                                                                         Officer and Rank

The least spoken about is actually the most vital part of this agitation. PBOR comprise nearly 98% of the ex-serviceman. While officers complaint finds its way into media, not least because they are ‘People Like Us’, there is disquiet and outrage at PBOR raising their own set of demands. Notwithstanding the fact that we do not know how many of the 24 lakh PBORs are represented by IESM or other organizations, but from August 2-6 an organization Voice of Ex-Servicemen Society (VESS) sat on their parallel agitation insisting that interests of PBOR and commissioned officers are different. Not only were they demanding parity with officers in so far as Military Service Pay, paid during active duty, because they claim that the jawans are always in ‘line of fire’ and faces ‘maximum threat to their life in any conflict’, yet this pay is not the same for all but they get Rs 2000, JCOs Rs 4200 and officers Rs 6000. Jawans family pension is Rs 3500. Their complaint is that pension for jawans is calculated as per Government Rules on pro-rata basis because they fall short of 33 years service precondition. Thus they receive only 40% of the pension, calculated on pro-rata basis, instead of what is due to them because it is in the very nature of their job that they have to retire after 17 years between 35-40,  in order to keep the ‘jawans’ young. Even more worrisome according to them is the fact that officers make up the negotiating team and PBORs remain unrepresented. They have no voice. The relationship carries on post-retirement and hierarchies continue to matter.

Even more startling they spoke about discrimination and exploitation of the jawans. Their charter of demand for the dharna held in New Delhi on 2nd August 2015 contains very significant issues:

10. The untouchability and ghetto system practiced by all Armed forces Ancillary services to be abolished. e.g. AWHO projects have separate enclaves for Officers and PBORs, even though cost of the dwellings are same for both.

11. Elimination of sewadari system from Army. Soldiers are for Fighting wars – not domestic servants

15. Re-structuring and modernising forces in professional manner by removing colonial discrimination by their roots, in similar ways of modern Forces similar lines of American Army. Demand no 17 says Discrimination prevalent in armed forces should be eliminated in all it form. Forces have become VVIP racism hubs with almost every facility being reserved for officers, including toilets. And finally their last demand, number 19 asks for “Reducing corruption in armed forces, by creating a platform wherein corrupt practices can be reported by PBOR without fear of retribution- Similar to Whistle blower protection act.”

 “(See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLsvde9qcNo the August 6th 2015 press conference of VESS.)

The charter of demand, thus, draws attention to the undemocratic practices which prevail in the Armed Forces of the Union, which deserves to be looked at and understood in order to reform this. (b)

WE can pretend that armed forces need a disciplined force so commands must be obeyed. However, discipline comes from motivation and to borrow a phrase ‘positive ideological motivation’. To insist on discipline by punishing the subordinate i.e. fear of retribution at the hands of officer for every infraction may be well suited to Colonial Raj, but it scarcely behoves a Constitutional Republic.

                                                                       Lopsided approach

Before proceeding further, it is important to demystify some dimensions of the problem.  In a very perceptive article Prof TT Ram Mohan (“7th Pay Commission is no ogre”, the Hindu 05/09/2015) points out that pay and allowances of central government climbed  from 1.9% of the GDP in 2001-02 to 2.3% of the GDP in 2009-10, following the 6th pay commission, but declined then in 2012-13 to 1.8%. So wage hike of employees per say is not a burden. But the interesting thing is that he draws attention to the fact that of the 2.4 lakh new posts which will be created, in 2015-16 thus raising the strength from 33.1 lakh to 35.6 lakhs,  fifty per cent or 1.2 lakh jawans would be recruited,  in the Central Para Military Forces and number of JCOs climb from 2200 to 9000. In other words a very large proportion of revenue expenditure and future liability is created on account of the military sector comprising the Services and CPMFs.

Even from the point of prudent financial management, or enlightened self-interest, which alone matters to bourgeoisie, there is need to weigh the usefulness of wasteful expenditure, raising  more and more armed soldiers with their inescapable demand for better and better compensation package in order to carry out the dirty work of suppression, versus reversing and running down of the social sector, exploitation of  cheap labour and perpetuating low wage economy, when they actually contribute to formation of social capital. Also it compels us to ask if we want to resolve disputes democratically or fight prolonged wars at home, augment repressive arm to suppress people or to provide a democratic resolution, which enhances stability and general well being.

The interesting thing to note is that Indian armed forces beginning 1971, and barring the limited war over Kargil in 1999, along with CPMFs have mostly been waging wars at home. More than 40% of the Indian army and 90% of CPMFs are deployed in J&K, NE and nine Central Indian States, engaged in ignoble task of wars of suppression at home. Exactly as was done by the colonial state, and now being carried on by the native ruling class in the name of ‘nation-state’, where territory is privileged, not the people. And this thirst for war against ‘our own people’ has not eased rather will carry on. The point, however, is that there is price to be paid.

Even the truncated form in which OROP has been accepted has generated demand from the central paramilitary forces (CPMF) demanding parity with service personnel (“MHA for Pay on Par with Army for Paramilitary Forces,” Express News Service, 3 February, 2015, Indian Express). The All India Central Para Military Forces Ex-Serviceman Welfare Association” has announced that they will begin their indefinite dharna for OROP, thus ending the 2004 contributory pension system, para-military service pay, like the Military Service Pay , health facility, extension of Canteen facility and a Para Military Welfare Board on line of Army Welfare Board.(“Paramilitary stir from November 2”, Vijay Mohan, The Tribine, 28/09/2015).  The cascading effect of OROP can push up the cost of manpower augmentation of the “Armed Forces of the Union” (comprising the services and CPMFs) and leave even less of scarce resources for other sectors.

The chiefs of six CPMFs had reportedly “complained” to the MHA that OROP for armed forces personnel would lead to “demoralisation in their ranks”—the men face equal if not more hardship than army soldiers but get a lower risk allowance. The six CPMFs have also petitioned the Seventh Pay Commission for parity in allowances (“Military’s Pension Overhaul Runs into Paramilitary Forces,”  Harinder Baweja, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 30 May). Contrary to the demand for parity, the situation after the Sixth Pay Commission has been that CPMF jawans get better and higher allowances than those in the army. For instance, special forces drawn from the army who operate ”behind enemy lines” get Rs 800–1,200 per month as an allowance, whereas Commando Battalions for Resolute Action (COBRA) units of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) get Rs 7,200–11,000 per month for the same. The instructor’s allowance for senior officers of the armed forces is Rs 1,800 per month whereas it is Rs 19,100 for officers of CPMFs. The CPMFs get double house rent allowance for Jammu and Kashmir and the North East and also Rs 4,000, or about 12.5% of the basic pay, as special duty allowance for “peace stations” in the North East and a detachment allowance of Rs 300 per day. Armed forces personnel do not get any of this (“Pay and Perks: CAPFs Have Edge Over Armed Forces,”  Vijay Mohan, The Tribune, Chandigarh, 3 Jun, 2015).

The solution that is being attempted, entrusting CPMFs with the task of fighting internal conflicts, is not as simple as it appears. It merely transfers the financial burden from one head of account to another, administratively from the MoD to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), while the resource pie remains unchanged. Whatever reduction of payroll cost takes place in the army, as and when it reveals itself, will be more than made up by increased recruitment to the CPMFs. Indeed, with CPMFs wanting parity with the army in salary and benefits, there is little likelihood of effecting any financial savings.

Business papers have begun to advice caution on OROP and are now finding fault with ex-servicemen for demanding something which will push up Government’s expenditure. Indeed their biggest worry is that there will be an exponential increase in pension outgo of the Government as well as may also see other sections of Government employees demand OROP. Thus, there could be cascading effect. Already Railways apart from the Central Paramilitary Forces have raised the demand. Railway unions point out that not just the army but they too play a critical role in ‘national security’ and their contribution could not be minimized. Indeed, contribution of those employed for pittance by the Government in the Social Sector too contribute a great deal as they are the front rank of providing health and education and care to present and future generations. But while rulers will not find this acceptable, they will take seriously the military personnel. One bright idea is lateral absorption of jawans into CPMFs. This is an old suggestion.

 Three Pay commissions, IV, V and VI had argued that lateral absorption of ex-servicemen into CPMF. The Sixth Pay Commission calculated that it would help save Rs 700 cr annually or Rs 7800 cr over 13 years.  According to them every year 40,000 armed forces personnel retire as against which total number of vacancies in Central Para Military Forces (CPMF) every year is 35,000. On the face of it this makes sense. But this saving is less than one percent of the Services pension bill and only a fraction of the total pensionary liability of the central government. Its peanuts. Although, with lateral induction, pension being paid out after 17 years can be paid out after 30/33 years since it will become “lifetime employment” according to the SPC. This change in service condition, however, must first negotiate other problem.

That counter insurgency was the link which enables lateral movement from DF to CPMF  is brought out by the Sixth Pay Commission. In an insightful exchange, the only one of its kind in the entire report, SPC met argument raised by the MHA. For instance the MHA argued that  DF personnel is “trained to kill whereas police forces personnel are trained to control and not kill”. The SPC answered that DF personnel are “highly disciplined and are trained to take action as per the orders given and  as per the demand of the situation.” And then went on to state that “DF are now being used in a major way in all the counter insurgency operations…(as well as) being used for various kinds of duties in the interior of the country”. (p141) To the argument that this “will curtail the available employment opportunities” the answer was that “the scheme will provide life time employment to successful candidate who will serve for a few years in the Defense Forces and thereafter be literally shifted to CPOs/defence civilian organization”.(p142).

The important thing to note is that there is not much difference in training between army’s infantry regiments and CPMF, with one third of the DF and at least 50 per cent of the CPMFs engaged in low intensity operations. This compatibility blurs the difference between the two forces and to that an extent the issue of edge that DF enjoys gets obviated vis a vis CPMF.  In that sense demand for higher pay and allowance for CPMF, at par with DF can be raised. Another problem is that a critical feature of counter insurgency in India is recruitment of people in the area where insurgency is on. For instance as per MHA recruitment norms 20% posts in the Border Guarding Forces and 40% in non-BGFs are to be filled by local recruits in militancy affected areas, i.e. J&K, NE and  “left wing extremist” affected areas, in every central armed police battalion raised. Even otherwise central government recruits up to 60% on the basis of population of each state or union territory and is also considering better minority representation in CPMF. These norms will have to be set aside were vacancies to be filled by inducting personnel from the DF. Or these MHA norms in turn may impact recruitment principles followed by the army (as the single largest force among DF) with its 70% mixed and 30% fixed or single class recruitment policy. Neither is going to be easy.

The expansion in CPMFs strength is posited on the basis of the assessment of internal security requirement. So does it mean that the Indian government believes that the future threat assessment demands this expansion?  What  if this threat assessment is itself exaggerated and misplaced?  And as vacuous as ‘Terrorism’ is, when the bigger threat of Hindutva terror  is ignored.

The Way Out

Few things stand out from above mentioned. Firstly, not just two front war but also wars at home have been the impetus for augmentation of the forces. Secondly, the demand for OROP has been simmering for long only to pick up during 2013 majorly with RSS-BJP committing themselves to OROP. Thirdly, there are not just financial implications but issue between Officer and Rank which have surfaced. Fourthly, it is having a cascading effect with demands being raised by CPMFs and even Railway employees demanding OROP.

Somewhere along the line people have to question this burgeoning financial and political cost. An expanding security force, where dividing line between DF and CPMF is blurred, has been deployed for long periods against our own people. Given that most armed conflicts aggravate due to military suppression by the government and refusal to resolve them democratically, we may witness their proliferation as discontent rises due to economic crisis and other cleavages are exploited by right wing hoodlums. This amounts to causing a worsening of a problem and contributing to a criminal waste of human and material resources to suppress rather than resolves conflicts.(c)

So, financial management is merely to tinker with a problem not to resolve it. In order to resolve, the context and political logic is important to recall. The very nature of military augmentation since 1970’s exhibits its actual link with internal war. While two-front war may have been the initial impetus the actual deployment of this force and its engagement in wars at home leave no other explanation possible than that AFU are primarily fighting their own people rather than defending our border. Given this link between wars as ‘politics of bloodshed’ at home, should begin to be of significance for the Left and the Liberals. To seriously engage with the demand for instance for right of self determination through a plebiscite or referendum in J&K, Nagaland and Manipur…rather than through military suppression and manipulation arrive at ad hoc remedies, which only prolongs rather than resolve disputes, are issues that poignantly come alive.

Lima Longkumer and Anjailiu Nimmai (“Beyond the Naga peace accord” The Statesman 21/09/2015) after pointing out that that “the contestation is that NSCN(I-M) cannot reconcile Naga politics alone, unless the voice of women and youth are considered and the wedge of distrust with civilian Nagas and other groups is dismantled.”  It then goes on to argue that “IN a democracy the will of the people is the determining factor of their destiny. A plebiscite would be in order (much akin to one exercised by Scotland recently)…”. They argue that whereas to the national security apparatus valorizes deal with NSCN(IM) since it is publicly seen as forerunner of nationalistic movements”, there is a divide due to ‘extortion by NSCNs’. However, while NSCN(K) still survives and so do other movements in the NE, it is worth noting that while dialoguing with the NSCNs, for instance, it is worth recalling that voices demanding a democratic alternatives too are present. Thus even while talks between armed resistance and Government is of critical importance the resolution of conflict necessitates ascertaining the will of the people.

Surely this is a reasonable demand when everyone knows that military solutions are impossible where wars have been on for decades. There’s an impasse, projected as ‘peace’ and ‘normalcy’, when they are far from it. Just see how 700,000 soldiers are still in J&K (300,000 army personnel), to fight 300 militants! Consider how J&K is denied relief and rehabilitation package, where RSS imposes economic blockade against Kashmir for defying beef ban…let’s not forget massacres, rapes, torture, enforced disappearance, killings for rewards…With such display of barbarism and bigotry why should the Muslims of J&K in particular not want ‘Azaadi’? (d)

Indeed the propensity of armed forces to wage dirty war against our own people raises a seminal issue. Legal immunity enjoyed by the armed forces personnel for their war crimes, crimes against humanity and violation of international humanitarian laws (which apply to armed conflict/war) also becomes an issue. This is tangentially gets linked to VESS demand for “Modernisation”. Because, one cannot be talking about discrimination, exploitation, racism….and be oblivious of what they do to the people in the conflict zone.

The Civil Liberties-Democratic Rights organisations,  have long clamoured  for ending the legal immunity provided to security forces. Apart from repeal of AFSPA, Sections 125 and 126 of the Army Act too needs to be struck down as this bars Criminal Court’s jurisdiction when civilians are aggrieved.  This subverts right to equality before Law.  In addition the VESS demands also point towards taking another look at the Army Act which is of colonial vintage and rank hierarchy was necessary for keeping few thousand British officers in control through discipline and reward over many hundred thousand Indian ‘sepoys’.  The inculcation of loyalty to the regiment, its flag and one’s own platoon is its corner stone. Consider that Dogra Regiment, an ‘elite’ infantry Regiment, was allowed to stay longer in Manipur, although they were to be shifted to Chandigarh, to enable them to undertake reprisals against NSCN (Khaplang) for killing 18 of their soldiers (largest casualty suffered by Indian army in anyone incident in nearly two decades). So allowing them to take ‘revenge’ in the name of ‘honour’ illustrates this phenomena. [“Army unit makes stand for honour”, Rahul Singh, The Hindustan Times  14/10/2015]. Soldiers then as now swear by religion, their battle cry is religious, there is no swearing allegiance to the Constitution. Surely, the call of VESS for reform is a much needed demand for democratizing the AFU and bring it in line with the  Republican Constitution. Is it not?

Arguably, politics should not enter AFU. IT is believed that this is the way to ensure civilian control over military and avert military dictatorship. Yet, it never strikes us that in more than 101 Districts out of 620, are “Disturbed Area’ where the military forces enjoy impunity. What is this if not a military rule in parts of what constitutes India. Besides, politics of rulers dominates the AFU. The soldiers were sent to Naga areas in 1950s to ward off China and to J&K in 1990 to fight a ‘proxy war’ with Pakistan. It is the officers/commanders who provide the rationale for war, & who the ‘enemy’ is when waging wars at home. The reality is that, especially in J&K, the largely non-Muslim force deployed against Muslims of J&K, could virtually become a sort of laboratory for Hindu communalization. One doesn’t have to go too far. The promotion of Amarnath Yatra by Press information Bureau since 2002, exhorting Hindus to carry out the pilgrimage as a ‘mark of solidarity with India soldiers’ fighting country’s enemies, has hardly aroused interest. While the AFU protect and feed pilgrims, one wonders if they will now be chasing ‘holy cows’ to ensure that people neither slaughter nor consume beef?

In other words OROP is a window which has provided an opportunity to critique the military sector and national security preoccupations and dogmas. In showing that rising wage and pension is a problem which will not go away since it is also linked to an inflated and self- serving ‘nat-sec’ apparatus which postulates and justifies augmentation of military personnel because it sees the need for bigger armed force  as necessary because social discontent grows and divisions and social cleavages get exacerbated by Hindutva and paranoic nat-sec, then unless we challenge the premise there is no meaningful reduction possible. Force augmentation in order to be reversed implies force withdrawal from engagement in wars, of weaning ourselves away from ongoing wars by opting for democratic resolutions.

It may be possible for the Indian government to ward off pressure from retired servicemen in the short term. But, so long as the current system operates unchanged, having committed 55 per cent of the AFU to fighting our own people, diversion of scarce resources to meet the  demand for higher and better compensation package for armed forces personnel, problems will persist.  And so will discontentment because OROP will not be met by the Government, they will tinker and prune it leaving most retirees dissatisfied. Thus, rather than accept manpower expansion of armed personnel as a fait accompli and persisting with colonial mindset of treating our own people as ‘enemy’ or ‘adversary’, there is a dire need to shed anachronistic approach and explore  democratic ways of resolving political problems. This alone can generate substantive and meaningful manpower and financial savings and free resources, both human and material,   being put to better productive use. But for this to happen it requires that we engage with issues of democratization of armed forces by reforming the Army Act (or similar Acts of CPMFs) both to repeal those provisions which fall foul of the principle of Rule of Law, namely equality before law, as well as make ranks less subject to arbitrary & capricious behaviour of the officers. This calls also for democratic politics where the Military Sector is concerned.[http://sanhati.com/excerpted/14784/zation of armed forces.]

To sum up, it is when we look at the financial implications of OROP that substantive questions rear their head. How did we get here? Why was a particular policy regime privileged? What were the underlying assumptions? What is the way out? Are we prepared to raise uncomfortable questions? Go the distance in our approach? Even when the government must accept OROP, having committed itself to it, the issue of its financial burden and the underlying policy assumptions cannot be sidestepped. Only then will we discover if there is an escape from the crippling financial burden of escalating politically resolvable conflicts into ones needing military suppression, thereby prolonging them, vitiating the political process, and putting pressure on finances. All this is made possible by agitation over OROP. So let us welcome this opportunity offered to us and make the most of it.

Notes

  • In an interesting twist the Hindu newspaper wrote that every major aspect of the Rafale deal is entwined in difficulties. ‘Among them are French side’s concerns about a major Indian private conglomerate whose services are being recommended by some sections of Indian Government. The “key” concern is the role Indian company will play in the deal. Josy Joseph wrote that due diligence done on the “recommended” conglomerate has thrown up questions over its financial capabilities.” (“Rafale Deal faces hurdles”, The Hindu 30/09/2015). I draw attention of readers to footnote 13 & 14 of my Sanhati article “Military Acquisition: Double Whammy’; September 16, 2015 http://sanhati.com/excerpted/14784/ for more.
  • The officer-rank divide has also surfaced among CPMFs. The PBOR of para military forces have alleged that IG rank and above ranked officers cannot represent their interest. The National Coordination Committee of ex Serviceman of CPMFs stands divided with the President, IG ranked officer and secretary general of who happens to be a JCO ranked retiree. Former says call for dharna was wrong but the latter says “Most of the office bearers who are opposing the dharna plan retired at IG rank and are now getting full pension. They are sabotaging the whole agitation on behalf of the government. The lower rank retirees will not forgive them for their betrayal.” (“Retired paramilitary men divided over OROP”, Rakesh Ahuja, The Hindustan Times 30/09/2015). Thus the divide is real and encompasses PBOR in CPMFs.
  • I analyse the recurring demand of CPMFs for better facilities and a long list of things demanded in “Motivation as Barometer of Real Politics,” Sanhati website, 27 February,http://sanhati.com/excerpted/12964/ The financial incentives extended to CPMFs bring out the hidden reality of their reluctance to offer their lives in internal wars against their own people.
  • A variety of conflicts have been unleashed and all the might of the Indian State now commanded by RSS cannot easily resolve all of them. Even from a the myopic perspective of national security doctrine (a need to know doctrine and kept out of public domain), which profits from fear mongering  then the famous Indo-Naga Framework Agreement is a good example of ‘being too clever by half’. First, the Government of India created condition to provoke National Socialist Council of Nagaland(Khaplang) to break the ceasefire after keeping them away from talks for 14 years, then announcing the “Agreement” which was no more than a “Framework” and where details will take years to be worked out, and now banning NSCN(K) to ensure that the they are kept out from the process has created a piquant situation. RN Ravi had said that “no Naga group or stakeholder should be excluded” and that for endurable peace it is important to engage with NSCN(Khaplang.(See Asian Age 19/08/2015 ” [“Govt was ready to talk to NSCN(K)”, Manoj Anand, Asian Age.] But the MHA has gone ahead and banned them and announced rewards for their leaders arrest. Secondly, the clash between Government of India  and Government of Nagaland over the interpretation of 371(A) with reference to the fact that no central laws apply to “land and its resources” and yet the Central government announced that under its Marginal Field Policy for the Petroleum sector, two oil fields, one each held by ONGC and Oil India, are going to be auctioned, shows that GoI and its functionaries are loath to comply with Constitutional obligation. The GoN believes such a move is in contravention, of the 1963 amendment to the constitution and only shows that Indian Government cannot be trusted to abide even by the constitutional commitment, it accepted in the ’63 Accord.

Or take Jammu and Kashmir where “an integral part of India” has been denied  a relief and rehabilitation package of Rs 44,000 cr for the devastating flood of September 2014. Indeed  Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh of RSS claimed that no more than Rs 3000 cr was needed for flood damage. This, when even the World Bank calculated just the loss to public infrastructure (bridges, culverts, roads, irrigation system…) was no less than Rs 28,000 cr! Most recently, the imposition of beef slaughter bv the Jammu bench of J&K High Court, citing a law introduced by Dogra Hindu rulers in 1846. This has become a new flashpoint with RSS declaring that it will impose an economic blockade (an act of war) on Kashmir and starve them to death for the sake of ‘holy cow’.  Indian State lets bigots a free run while the media downplays the criminal ways of Hindutva brigade.  Paradoxically, this comes as a tremendous boost for the Resistance against forced ‘union’ with India. Point is there is a hiatus between appearance and reality. What appears as settled or resolved remains conflict ridden and un-resolved.