It is a shame for the government that ex-soldiers, who in their time gave security to the nation by guarding its land border, coastline and airspace day and night, have had to take to the streets demanding their inalienable right of 'One rank, one pension'. It is not that this principle of calculation of pension is foreign to the government. Right from the president of India, prime minister, judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, members of Parliament to the secretaries to the government of India, they all are beneficiaries of 'One rank, one pension'. That it should continue to be denied to ex-soldiers defies all logic and fairness. Even the argument that the government could not spare a few thousand crores to give out arrears and increase in pensions to about two million ex-servicemen does not hold any water, not at least now when the same government could splurge seventy thousand crores on the inconsequential Commonwealth Games and the prime minister could tolerate the revenue loss of a GDP-scale Rs.1.76 lac crore or US$39 billion in the 2G spectrum scam absolutely nonchalantly.
Earlier, I was very upset that thousands of ex-soldiers had returned their medals to the president of India, the supreme commander of the armed forces, as a mark of their protest. But today having attended their protest rally and seen more medals being collected to be returned to the president, I am not too sure whether this extreme step could have been avoided. As the protesters said they were registering their disappointment and frustration at the government's unsympathetic attitude by giving up something very dear to them. They knew that their returning the medals could affect the morale of the serving soldiers adversely but the government had not left them any alternatives.
I am glad that I was with the retired soldiers supporting them in their fight for justice, and since I was the only civilian there I got a chance not only to address them but also to freely interact with quite a few of them, from old sepoys to a retired 3-star general, and learn of the fierce pride they still feel in the defence forces they once served. And how can I ever forget what Malerkotla's Beant Singh, a wizened ex-sepoy, told me, that people would always do the right thing if they let their mind's Arjun be guided by their conscience's Shri Krishna? I am grateful to the Sikh gentleman for sharing with me the essence of the Bhagvad Gita's wisdom.