New Delhi: There might be implementation problems with the one-rank, one-pension (OROP) scheme. A scheme so massive, and one which is designed to cover all veterans and those in service, is bound to have glitches. Anyone who has dealt with the Indian government system would know that it is corrupt and tragically creaky. After decades of empty promises, in which the major criminal party is the Congress, the one-rank, one-pension scheme has got off to a start. But for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this scheme would have lain in cold storage. He found the money for it, and to that end, he kept his campaign promise. The Opposition, a narrow opposition to be sure, comprising one scion and one dishonourable Chief Minister, could not stomach this. In the suicide of a veteran, therefore, they have found an opening to attack Prime Minister Modi. India is a free country. Anyone can politically attack anyone else. But there are issues of rationality, a sense of justice, political decency and so forth which should temper competitive politics. Rahul Gandhi and the Chief Minister of Delhi have thrown good sense and caution to the wind in the manner of their attack on Modi on OROP.

In the case of the Delhi Chief Minister, this should cause no surprise. He has proved totally unfit for the office he has been elected to (his government, for example, has been unable to provide basic piped water to the poor of Vasant Kunj, the colony this writer stays in, and knows about), and he covers his shortcomings and deficiencies by foul-mouthing anybody he sees as a threat to his politics. He has abused Modi in the past (to reprint his abuses is to dignify them), and nothing is sacred for him. He took the line of Pakistan in questioning the surgical strikes. Only a dishonourable man would do that. One should not waste one’s breath on him.

Let us turn to Rahul Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi was quick to make political capital out of the veteran’s suicide. The question to Rahul Gandhi is this. How often did he protest against various Congress governments at the Centre who had turned a deaf ear to veterans pleading for OROP? Before May of 2014, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Congress had two full terms. It sat over the OROP scheme not knowing how to commence it and knowing even less where to find the funds for it. The UPA regime knew how to loot in the esteemed tradition established by the Bofors scam but not how to finance OROP. It hoped and prayed that the veterans would tire. On the other hand, Prime Minister Modi decided to resolve the seemingly-impossible pension matter. He deserves full marks for trying his best.

The idea of pensions as a means to preserve and deepen nationalism was first conceived by the Chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck. Not one to put the cart before the horse, Bismarck ensured that the German Empire was economically sound to afford his scheme. More than half-a-century before Bismarck, the greatest campaigner of Modern history, Napoleon Bonaparte, found himself in less happy circumstances. When he rose to power, the military expected special treatment, since he was one of them, a career artillery officer who was actually trained for naval warfare. Napoleon, however, set out to create, with typical genius, a balance between military spending and the economical wellbeing of France. He instituted the system of military medals to compensate for the modest remuneration to the forces. For all his devotion to the military cause, Napoleon understood that the military could not be propped up at the cost of the state: Because if the state withered away in the process, there would be nothing for the military to defend.

The examples set by Napoleon and Bismarck in their time are equally relevant today. A state can only be stable and strong if it can balance military spending on one hand with social and economic investments on the other. Veterans should understand and appreciate that what is given to them by way of enhanced pensions are taken away from other perhaps more needy citizens. No one grudges veterans and serving military personnel more personal benefits. But at the end of the day, India is a developing country. It has a large standing army to support in view of the threats and a considerable population of veterans to care for. The resources of the Indian state are finite. There are limits to how much the government can spend on one section of society. With entitlements come duties. Surely the veterans would not want crippling distortions in the economy because of an open-ended and populist one-rank, one-pension scheme.

The death of anyone is a sad event. The suicide of a veteran is to be mourned. But competitive politics must retreat on such occasions to respect the dead. The one-rank, one-pension scheme has just begun. Knowing the government system, there will be implementation flaws. There will be interest groups in the bureaucracy that would want to choke the funds committed to OROP to flow freely. The Prime Minister’s Office must steer OROP in the initial phase till the government system accepts it and implements it to the letter. For the Prime Minister’s political opponents, here is a word of caution. Do not ride the tiger of populism. You will be consumed.