The long-pending one rank,one pension demand,on which the expectations of ex-servicemen have been varying between hope and despair for the last more than two decades,has finally been rejected by the UPA government,as announced in the Rajya Sabha by Defence Minister A K Antony in December.
All political parties,without any exception,have betrayed ex-servicemen after coming to power at the Centre. Having failed to get their due from the government,the ex-servicemen had filed a case in the Supreme Court in the early eighties. In 1982,the Constitution Bench of the apex court had ruled: Any benefits granted to pensioners from time to time will be made applicable to all living pensioners. The decision remains unimplemented.
Incidentally,in another judgment in July 1987,the Supreme Court ruled: All judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts will get the same pension as their successors get any time in the future. What is interesting is that it is not only judges but also MPs and MLAs who enjoy the privilege of one rank,one pension.
On Independence Day in 1983,a large number of ex-servicemen had gathered at India Gate with their awards pinned to a blackboard reading farewell to recognition and sacrifice. They had come to return their medals to the President who is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. They abandoned their plan later on the persuasion of an All India Congress Committee (I) general secretary and a ruling party MP. This exercise of returning medals,protest marches and observing dharnas has been carried out several times in the past,but ex-servicemen have always been dissuaded from doing so by the functionaries of the ruling parties who ensured that the demands would be sympathetically considered.
Notable among these was a hunger strike followed by the courting of arrest in front of Parliament House,after which,ex-servicemens representatives were granted an interview by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on November 5,1986. This resulted in the Congress governments setting up a high-level committee to look into the problems of ex-servicemen. The salient recommendations of the committee still remain unimplemented.
What is more annoying is the fact that after winning elections in 1989,the then Prime Minister V P Singh had said that his government stood committed to one rank,one pension demand. He claimed that provisions to enhance pensionary benefits would be introduced in the 1990-91 Budget. The then President R Venkataraman had also made a similar commitment in a television address in December 1989. What followed was the appointment of the Jaffa Committee,which gave a bureaucratic burial to this demand.
What renewed the demand was an announcement by the then Defence Minister George Fernandes at Anandpur Sahib on April 10,1999,that the one rank,one pension demand had been accepted in principle and its implementation was the matter of a few days.
On February 8,2003,Madan Lal Khurana,the then Lok Sabha MP and chairman of the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Defence,said at Dharamsala that the one rank one pension issue,hanging fire for decades,would soon be resolved as the recommendations of his panel had been accepted in principle by the ministries of Finance and Defence. To put pressure on the UPA government to accept the demand and to show their resentment against the raw deal given to them by the Sixth Pay Commission,ex-servicemen are observing a hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Some have even threatened to burn their gallantry awards if the government fails to take concrete steps to meet their demands. What the ex-servicemen must understand is that hunger strikes,returning or burning their medals will not take them closer to get their goal. What is more important is to dissolve half-a-dozen of their organisations and come on one platform.
This will be the only way to establish their clout. In a democratic set-up like India,it is the vote-bank that matters. Their number being over three crore,including their families,no political party (if they are united) can afford to ignore them.