Armed forces personnel, even after retirement, by and large, continue being apolitical. That’s how it should be in a democracy. However, armed forces personnel should be politically savvy. They do vote, don’t they? What politicians do affects them, in many cases, even more than the civilians. For example, they say, war is politics by other means; soldiers, sailors and airmen die in war and all because of international and national politics. Similarly, their life-style, liberties, position in society, salaries and pensions are dependent upon political considerations. Hence, to expect that armed forces personnel shouldn’t or won’t be interested in outcomes of elections, national and international politics would be naive and wrong.
Why were the Bihar elections and their outcome important to faujis? It would be appropriate to remember that Shri Narendra Modi’s government itself linked OROP to Bihar election considerations by making an announcement on OROP on 5th Sep 15, just before the Bihar elections. It was widely discussed that the very announcement of OROP without a matching notification was to pull all plugs out to favour the ruling party at the centre since Bihar accounts for one of the largest induction of faujis in the Indian armed forces. That, apart from this electoral consideration, the government was not serious about actually honouring the approval of OROP by two parliaments, can be made out from the following:
- It pooh-poohed the UPA government for announcing OROP at the fag-end of its tenure with a token budget of only Rupees 500 Crores. It tried to bring out that the UPA government was playing politics with OROP for electoral gains. However, whilst it tried to bring out that the UPA government was never serious about OROP, by itself it questioned the very definition of OROP once it came into power; the same definition that was approved by two parliaments earlier.
- During the electoral campaign for the Lok Sabha, it promised that it would implement (already approved OROP) within 100 days of coming to power. However, when it finally announced OROP after 16 months of coming to power, it became apparent why the government required so much of time. It twisted and turned the approved concept of OROP so that its announcement of 05 Sep 15 would have very little to do with the approved OROP and would be only an apology for the same (because of its seven serious flaws).
- The country never questioned as to what was the need of the announcement on 05 Sep 15 when the OROP had already been passed by the parliament. All that the government was required to do was to notify the OROP. However, as is clear now, the government played into the hands of the wily bureaucracy who revel in keeping the faujis always dissatisfied. This same wily bureaucracy, belatedly, and without any discussions with the faujis, introduced clauses into the OROP announcement that made a mockery of it (eg, VRS, review after five years, to be reviewed by 7th CPC, to have calendar year 2013 as the base year and not financial year 2013-14, effective date being 01 Jul 14 rather than 01 April promised earlier, and midway band of pay to be considered for pension rather than earlier promised highest of pay band). Naturally, it made the faujis very distrustful of the government, politicians and bureaucrats (Please read: As A ‘Fauji’ I Don’t Trust You Anymore) and they concluded, with enough justification, that the government required extra time (four times the time promised) so as to tinker with the approved OROP and reduce it to nothingness.
It built up to the excuse that it couldn’t notify even the truncated OROP because of electoral code of conduct for Bihar elections when actually, since it had been earlier approved by the parliament, it had nothing to do with Bihar elections. This stance conveyed that the government was banking on the protests against its chicanery of 05 Sep 15 to die down (time is a great healer!) before making the notification as a fait-accompli.
Now that the Bihar election results are out, it appears that the gamble of the BJP to play politics with OROP before the elections, just as Congress did before the Lok Sabha elections, failed. It doesn’t look like that the political constituency in Bihar was hoodwinked into believing that the government was sincere about something like OROP. The faujis, despite dissatisfaction with the BJP government, didn’t do anything to sabotage its chances in Bihar because of the apolitical tag that they feel they are committed to. But, now, after the results, one can safely surmise that the results would have been much more disastrous for the BJP otherwise.
Yes, the faujis by themselves are very small constituency for the political parties to lose their sleep over. But, in this regard, their comparison to the mainstream English language media is apt. The English language media is very small as compared to the vernacular (in states like Gujarat, for example, until about a decade and a half back, it was unheard of). However, its influence over policy matters is disproportionately large. It is the same with the faujis. By and large, the countrymen hold the faujis in high esteem. In states like Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal, for example, every second family has someone in the armed forces. That makes it a fairly influential lobby; if that’s the language that the politicians understand.
BJP would have also realised that the politics of arrogance is not fetching it the desired results. Before and after Delhi elections, it supported by its henchmen media (exactly how the media is doing it now with OROP news), ridiculed AAP with undisguised arrogance and had a complete blackout of the massive AAP rallies. Even with all this, the BJP received only three seats but it was unruffled thinking that probably Delhi was a fluke case and Bihar would get back everything. It thus staked its reputation on the outcome of Bihar elections. When it started becoming clear that it was nowhere near winning Bihar, it still didn’t abandon the politics of arrogance. It indulged in divisive and parochial politics and even declared that those who don’t vote for BJP deserve to be sent to Pakistan.
I am sure that now, it would do well to reconsider arrogance as a governance model. Sheer numbers do not win battles, even electoral ones; the righteous, courageous and the moral do. The famous Battle of Saragarhi was fought on 12 September 1897 between just 21 committed Sikhs and 10000 Afghans. It is ranked by the United Nations as one of the bravest battles ever fought. Each one of the 21 Sikhs was given the highest honour by the British: Indian Order of Merit (equivalent to the present Param Vir Chakra or the Victoria Cross of the British). That is the power of the righteous. Numbers are merely deceptive.
Political parties, over the years (42 years to be exact since 1973 when they snatched the OROP from faujis), have played politics with what is now highly emotional issue affecting the izzat of the faujis. The picture of the 82 years old Vishambar Singh with his shirt torn, his medals snatched, after being assaulted by the police at Jantar Mantar on 14th Aug 15 would be enough to galvanise the faujis to fight another Saragarhi and defend their honour against all odds. Petty politics, the kind the BJP played recently, and UPA played all these years earlier, is not going to deter them. Soon it may occur to the government that the politics of arrogance is losing politically too.
Those engaged in the agitation for a full and undiluted OROP have given a call for Black Diwali; that is, Diwali minus the accompanying lighting of lamps without and happiness within. It may not be making enough clamour now or later when they, nation-wide, go about returning their medals in disgust. But, it is time to start listening.
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