In an unprecedented move, police detained Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, his deputy Manish Sisodia and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday after a veteran committed suicide over a scheme to equalize pension for ex-military personnel. Gandhi, detained twice during the day, was let off at night.
Kejriwal and Gandhi were detained amid demonstrations in the heart of the capital after they tried to meet the grieving family of Ram Kishan Grewal, who ended his life on Tuesday evening here.
Sisodia was detained in the morning after he met the dead man’s son at a hospital. “I went to meet the family, not to stage a dharna. What’s wrong with that? What kind of system is this, Modiji,” Sisodia asked, targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Grewal’s son Jaswant said he, his younger brother and brother-in-law were beaten and taken to a police station when they tried to meet Gandhi. Demanding justice, he said he had never witnessed such police conduct vis-a-vis veterans’ families.
As the tug of war played out, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused Gandhi and Kejriwal of politicizing the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme announced last year.
Retired soldiers have been alleging that the government has not addressed their concerns fully about disparity in pension payments.
They resumed a relay hunger strike on Tuesday for rectification of anomalies in the OROP, which, among other measures, is meant to ensure equal pension to retired soldiers who served with the same rank and for the same duration, regardless of the year of retirement.
Grewal, 70, formerly of Rajputana Rifles, allegedly took poison at a park here on Tuesday evening and died demanding the immediate implementation of the scheme.
Before dying, he telephoned his son Jaswant and told him that he was committing suicide as a “sacrifice” for the nation, his family told the media.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said he was “saddened by the death… I express my heartfelt condolences. I have asked for officials to provide me details.”
But Parrikar’s ministerial colleague V.K. Singh, himself an ex-army chief, triggered a row by questioning the “mental state” of the dead soldier.
“He has committed suicide. No one knows the reason behind it. OROP is being shown as the reason. What his mental state was, we do not know. Let it be probed first. OROP should be above politics,” the Minister of State for External Affairs was quoted as saying by national news channels.
By evening the soldier’s suicide snowballed into a major political row with the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Trinamool Congress lashing out at the government over the police crackdown.
Scores of AAP and Congress activists massed outside the Lady Hardinge Hospital, where Grewal’s body was kept for an autopsy, and the two police stations where Sisodia and Gandhi were detained.
“The central government is intent on goondagirdi,” Kejriwal told the media. “I am the Chief Minister of Delhi. An ex-serviceman has committed suicide. Is it not my duty to meet his family?”