Elections and false promises are the staple of politics the world over, but in India our political leaders take the cake. When the last General Elections were announced, the people of India had had enough of the government in power at that time. Corruption, sycophancy, runaway inflation, lack of employment opportunities et al had made people cynical and the loss of faith in democracy was evident. The country needed ‘change’ in all aspects of functioning. Clever politicians smell such cynicism and hence when election time comes and voters have to be wood, no politician is found wanting in the promises he or she makes. That is democracy for the gullible, as most promises are broken or glossed over later! A senior minister in the present cabinet has admitted that it is so without mincing any words, while discussing OROP.

Many of our citizens are simple indeed and possibly the most gullible are military personnel. When the erstwhile Chief Minister of Gujarat threw his pagri in the ring and was soon projected by his party as their chosen and designated future Prime Minister, the public bought it hook, line and sinker, as he came with the reputation of a doer. The military part of the nation’s polity was at the forefront of this acceptance and lapped it up in every conceivable way, including forsaking their earlier method of casting their votes after studying the merits and demerits of the candidates in their constituencies and not on the basis of their political affiliations. This led to the piling up of votes for the BJP and soon we saw the erstwhile Chief Minister of Gujarat in his new avatar of Prime Minister Modi.

During the run up to the elections, the Prime Minister Designate virtually promised a return of ‘Ram Raj’ and people lapped up this also, completely forgetting that Kaliyug, with all its negativity still prevailed and political leaders were the same, irrespective of their parties, touting transparency, honesty and other virtues! Soon, however, Ram Raj disappeared and Modi Raj took over. Initially, it augured well for good governance, as the new Prime Minister brought in both professionalism and energy to the task of good governance. However, the initial eagle-eye on the working of the bureaucracy, gave way within a few months to succumbing to the blandishments of the bureaucrats, who waved somewhat unfamiliar rule books at the political leaders, forgetting that it is the political leadership that makes or changes rules! Soon, the all powerful bureaucracy prevailed once again and sadly we moved from Modi Raj to Official’s Raj. Governance had come back full circle and it once again became business as usual.

It was in this milieu that the simple veterans decided to re-affirm their extremely legitimate demand for OROP that had been promised ad infinitum by not only the Prime Minister but also his ministers and party leaders. When meetings and negotiations produced no results, the veterans decided to resume their protests, which had been earlier temporarily abandoned. By now, disillusionment with the new government had set in on account of delays and the negative attitude of the political leadership.

The protests commenced at the designated venue laid down for protests, after permissions had been duly obtained. The response was overwhelming and continues to be so even after two months of relentless protests. As mid-August approached, signals that a resolution was in sight and in all probability a positive announcement would be made by Prime Minister Modi soon buoyed up the expectations of all military personnel, both veterans and those currently serving.

It was one day before Independence Day, when the mood of the protesters was upbeat, that disaster struck. On this fateful morning, even the Official’s Raj came a cropper and we saw the ugly spectacle of heavily armed police in full riot gear sweeping down on the unsuspecting veteran protesters and evicting them from the Jantar Mantar complex by force. The new Police Raj had shown its ugly face!

Not that this Raj is original as far as the public is concerned, but the segment of the polity known as the military had not directly felt it! Was it a grave omission of governance by the Modi/Official’s Raj, or a pre-planned effort on the part of the government that the police was tasked to throw out the protesters? Your guess is as good as mine!

There was neither any warning nor any explanation for such behaviour on a body of long-retired veterans, including many octogenarians who had been protesting for their justifiable and legally correct demand for the long promised OROP. What was most astonishing was that this was done when the OROP had been accepted in toto, not only by the Modi Raj, but also by all its predecessor governments and political leaders of all hues and colours. It was a shameful act by a government that has been boasting about its so-called achievements in the field of governance and empowering the common man. There was no cogent reason for this action except plain cussedness.

As the veterans had not been subjected to this new face of governance, there was both consternation and bewilderment. However, being military persons, they soon recovered and rallied against this onslaught. While one group of leaders took over the mantle of keeping the hot-heads in check, others commenced contacting the concerned administrative officials, political big-wigs and the media. The power the state unleashed on the dignified, unarmed, peaceful protesters, including some families and Veer Nari’s did not become a melee on account of the sober and mature handling by the leaders of the movement.

Whatever be the reason for this shameful and unthinking action, it was compounded the next day when the Prime Minister decided to say a few words, as an afterthought it seemed, at the end of his long and much anticipated Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort. How ironical that Prime Minister Modi again repeated old clichés of more time needed and unknown complexities for the non-implementation of OROP, despite all the brouhaha preceding it. This was possibly the first instance of an apology of excuses to military personnel delivered from a locale that has traditionally been associated with all things military and the historical seat of power in the times of yore.

The Prime Minister in his speech had boasted about over Rs. Three lakh crores coming in to the coffers of the government through auction of coal fields and another substantial chunk coming in soon from auction of the spectrum. Splendid Sir, but why is a mere 9000 crores for OROP so difficult to digest by our venerable pundits sitting in the Ministry of Finance?

At least, all military personnel and their families have now learnt that the much repeated phrase of ‘Team India’ articulated by Prime Minister Modi in his speech does not include them. What a fall for the guardians of the sovereignty of the nation.

The protests will of course continue and perhaps with additional vigour, but what begs the question is why the military that is literally worshipped in most countries is not only ignored but is not respected by our so-called enlightened political leaders. I also want to know why the civil society has become mute spectators to such humiliation of those who have risen time and again to protect them and safe guard the nation from its enemies.

(The writer is a former Vice Chief of the Army)