[By Col NN Bhatia (Retd)]
At 3pm on 23 August 2015, my neighbour Brig IS Lamba, veteran ASC Officer, and I, like many others took the Metro to reach Jantar Mantar and take part in the OROP rally and the Candle March up to Amar Jawan Jyoti, India Gate, to pay homage to the martyrs of 1965 Indo-Pak War.
Even as the Modi government planned on celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1965 war on 23 August, ironically PM Modi had no clue that the veterans who fought and won the war for the country were agitating against him for putting on hold his promise to release the ‘One Rank One Pension’ popularly known as OROP.
The venue was filled with veterans and their families hoarsely shouting ‘Sada Haq Aithey Rakh’ literally meaning ‘Our Right, Give Us Right’. It was indeed remarkable to see the rare integration three services which is either seen in wars or in the National Defence Academy (NDA). However, it is unfortunate that this time all three forces came together for their ‘Haq OROP’ so craftily denied by successive governments.
What made the event unique was that aged veterans and their graceful spouses were supported by their children and grandchildren. People like these — a 75-year-old veteran with his 3-year-old grandson (whose father was away active duty) on his shoulders lending support to the cause and a 96-year-old widow attending the event — gave me plenty of inspiration. Col Pushpinder Singh, one of the three comrades on a hunger strike was represented by his 94-year-old mother, an army widow. We came across a woman whose father, husband and son were in the army. The sight of war veterans with amputated limbs and wheel chair-ridden war heroes fails to touch the conscience of our politicians and babus holding on to the just demands and peaceful agitation. Our government only bends to violence like the Gujjars did recently but they must know ‘Acche Din’ will last only with ‘Acche Karm’. They must know that good times can end fast as it so happened to Rajiv Gandhi after their land slide victory. In my earlier article on OROP I had said and I quote,
“I respectfully say to PM Modi, PLEASE DON’T TAKE ON THE ARMED FORCES for too long. Those who elected you can demolish you as well in the next election.”
The armed forces are the true protectors of the country who need to be the real players of your ‘Team India’. Nations can neglect their armed forces to their own peril. And by demoralising them you have negated ‘motivation’ as one of the war winning principles!
Like the electrifying ‘Bole So Nihal- Satyasrikaal’ war cry of martial Sikh races and the catchy ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan’ term coined by the late Prime Minister Sh. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the powerful OROP slogan ‘Sada Haq Aithey Rakh’ managed to electrify the atmosphere on 23 August. Presence of Union Minister Gen (Retd) VK Singh’s daughter Mrinalini, whose husband is a serving Army Officer was as much a boost for the agitating veterans as much as an embarrassment to the government.
Disappointingly, the press was largely absent. Gagging of the media is done only in a sham democracy and so does the high handed behavior meted out by corrupt police officials to disciplined agitating war veterans on black day of 14 August 2015, denting our martial traditions. Actor Neha Dhupia’s father Commander Dhupia came down from Mumbai to lend support the cause and said he would explore feasibility of an independent veterans TV channel. Services of media professionals are needed to promote the cause of OROP to ensure larger penetration among the masses, especially in rural areas and small towns where ex servicemen are abound.
But we witnessed a great show of strength. Nearly 5000 candles and mineral water pouches were distributed to bear sultry weather conditions. We peacefully marched up to Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate, covering 1.7 kms on Ashoka Road. Surprisingly, while the police ‘bandobast’ was obvious, for a change, the police was very polite. India Gate was filled with Sunday crowds and gas balloon vendors and junk food stalls, making the mockery of ‘Swach Bharat’ with their blatant disregard for garbage bins — empty paper and plastic plates and cups were littered all over the roads. We lit our candles, bowed our heads in reverence remembering the 1965 war martyrs and dispersed peacefully with the hope that good sense will prevail on the government and they will announce OROP in no time.
While walking back I was thrilled to read on the back of the one auto, probably owned by an ex serviceman, ‘Sada Haq Aithey Rakh.’ In the Metro I received a WhatsApp message that read –
‘In the CBI raid at IAS officer’s house at Ratlam Rs 200 crores in cash was recovered. You need to raid only 42 such ‘babus’ to pay OROP.’
I also learnt that Col Pushpinder Singh (who is also diabetic) is on the ninth day of his hunger strike and has been admitted in the ICU of R&R(Army Research and Referral hospital) due to a serious health condition. I can only now warn PM Modi to not take the armed forces for granted. We are united and formidable and our valiant armed forces support us for they know they are tomorrow’s veterans.