Committee to look into pensionary anomalies? Don't kid yourself

Been out of Delhi for a while, but just heard that the Election Commission has issued a notice to the Cabinet Secretary. The UPA government has apparently violated the election code of conduct by (a touch desperately) setting up a "High-level Committee" to look into implementing the one-rank one-pension (OROP) demand and correct certain other pensionary anomalies that ex-Servicemen have been calling for for years.

What strikes me as particularly shameful about the Congress government is that it waited until now to set up this so-called Committee. Bang in the middle of elections when passions are fluid. Last week, a large congregation of ex-Servicemen met at the Constitution Club in Central Delhi to firm up the call on their brethren to vote for the BJP. Not that the scurrilous BJP will ever implement OROP within 100 days of coming to power as promised.

It's hard for someone not directly affected by the anomalies (including me, I admit) to understand just how emotive the issue is. Of course, after four months of protests by ex-Servicemen organisations at Jantar Mantar, and the depressing return of gallantry medals to the President, it was an issue just begging to be politicised. Indeed, those who run these ex-Servicemen organisations saw prudence in pro-actively politicising the issue themselves, creating the definite aura of a pan-Indian votebank, and then handing it on a platter to whoever was shrewd enough to grab it. In the event, it was LK Advani who saw it fit to actually land up at their protest site and make the promise, even if it will turn out to be a cheap, hollow one.

But the question I'd really like to ask -- and I hope to do so when I get back to Delhi -- is, what the hell happened to the Congress government's conclusion, enunciated in Parliament no less, that the OROP demand had been examined and that it was found to be,.. hang on, let me quote back for you what Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju told the Lok Sabha on December 15 last year: "The demand for ‘One Rank One Pension’ was not found acceptable due to administrative, financial and legal reasons." Ok, well in that case who exactly are they tying to delude with this High-level Committee tamasha? That's the infuriating part. But there are huge numbers of people just sitting and waiting to be deluded. Just like those who believe the BJP will deliver on the OROP promise. Remember, nothing stops the BJP from ordering a Committee of its own if it manages to come to power. And we all know what Committees do when it comes to defence. They're an artful, sinfully wasteful exercise in running circles around the core issue. You don't have to be a pessimist in India to know that.

Which brings me to a final point. Our Defence Minister, Mr AK Antony is an unusual man. He is every bit the politician, but his commitment towards propriety and integrity above all else, separates him from the usual flock of mantris. Mr Antony is also an intrinsically compassionate man, with an earthy humanity. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine how such unfeeling handling of ex-Servicemen demands could have happened on his watch. I cannot help thinking it couldn't have been his decision. He was always receptive, always listened with sincerity. Then how could he stomach this vulgar display of political desparation that the appointment of a High-level Committee bang in the middle of elections constitutes? I, for one, give him the benefit of the doubt, for my own reasons. But he should have, at the very least, made his anger over the government recent decree on the issue more known. I suppose there's a line where practical humanity ends and political consideration begins.

It's just there's no line that draws an end to political consideration. That's the real tragedy.

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