Three days back, the veteran Indian born British actor Saeed Jeffrey passed away. I was reminded of this scene in Satyajit Ray’s 1976 movie Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players) based on a story by Munshi Premchand. The scene is the last scene of the movie in which two rich noblemen of Awadh kingdom, Mirza Sajjad Ali (Sanjeev Kumar) and Mir Roshan Ali (Saeed Jeffrey) continue playing chess, a game they are obsessed with, even when a small boy alarmingly brings the news to them that just next to where they are engaged in their game of chess, British forces are marching to take over Awadh, without opposition.
The story by Munshi Premchand and its outstanding portrayal by Satyajit Ray is a true reflection of the attitude of our countrymen in general and noblemen (the elite) in particular about matters concerning national security. They are the modern-day Noahs; the same Noah, who during the deluge, in a lighthearted ditty, was brought out with seemingly unconcerned repose:
“And Noah, he often said to his wife,
Whenever he sat down to dine,
“I don’t care where the water goes,
If it doesn’t get into the wine.”
And what about the government? A report in a national daily brought out that “the government is losing patience with the veterans”. How preposterous can that be? After 42 years of the government having snatched OROP from the veterans, after numerous promises by subsequent governments, after repeated recommendations of several committees including the 2011 Koshiyari Committee, after being passed by two parliaments and upheld by the Supreme Court of India, after five months of continuous agitation by the veterans, the government notifies a much truncated OROP, and – hold your breath – it is the government that is losing patience. The only analogy that comes to mind is that of a rapist complaining to a rape-victim about her crying.
The fact is that the government has already assessed that even after five months of agitation, neither the noblemen nor the countrymen appear to be bothered. Presently, the veterans are fighting a lone battle.
And in the meantime another Colonel (Colonel Mahadik) is killed in the valley bravely fighting the terrorists. But then, as one of the politicians said, “They are paid to die”. Who is really bothered? Also, in the meantime, in PM’s own state, last week, Army had to control even small scale riots that police and para-military forces couldn’t control. Armed forces are the preferred forces for disaster relief and even for law and order situations that someone else is paid to do. But, they do their job and are forgotten and no one is bothered.
We are all Shatranj Ke Khiladi; we don’t care as long as the water doesn’t get into our wine.
Another ludicrous statement attributed to the Raksha Mantri Shri Manohar Parrikar in a national daily was: Let the veterans prove that their agitation is not political. The pot calling the kettle black? As recently as 05 Sep 15, it is you and your government, Mr. Parrikar, who played politics with OROP by announcing it just before the Bihar elections; when there was no need for any such announcement since it was already passed by the parliament. The UPA government played politics with OROP all those four decades and just before the parliamentary elections. And, you, have the temerity to ask veterans to prove that their agitation is not political. Once again, you have assessed that our people are not concerned about the specifics of any issue. Hence, knowing anything about OROP would be beyond the grasp of average Indians. Why only politicians and bureaucrats? Even the Indian justice system works on the principle of delaying justice so long that it becomes fait-accompli.
The present government started off with the promise that it would be a government with a difference in its approach towards all issues concerning the nation and its citizens. So then, what appears to have gone wrong with the promise to implement the full OROP within 100 days of coming to power? Is it so helpless and, more importantly, blinded by the designs of the bureaucracy that it cannot trust its faujis against the same bureaucracy; especially when the Indian faujis have amply proved to be amongst the best in the world and the Indian babus have proved to be amongst the worst?
Or, is it that since the previous governments paid only lip-service to the OROP issue, this government, in a bid to take credit for finally having sanctioned the OROP, is losing patience with the veterans for denying it its carefully crafted moment of glory? If that is the case then hasn’t the government got itself to blame? Shouldn’t it have studied the issue independently rather than through the coloured glasses of the bureaucracy?
It is quite likely that the government must have by now realised that something that should have brought it enormous goodwill and credit seems to have backfired by its playing into the hands of the bureaucracy. In that case, rather than reinforcing an erroneous stand should it not do the honourable thing of exposing these wily babus and let the nation know that it made a mistake? I am sure the government would immediately win back the trust of the faujis. There is no glory in the government being at war with its own armed forces; and, even if the government wins, India and Indians lose though it may not be apparent to them straightway.
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