The family members of a former soldier who committed suicide over pension issues made Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi wait at the funeral on Thursday because they wanted to hold the rituals in the presence of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Gandhi waited at the Bhiwani crematorium ground in Haryana for some 30 minutes before the proceedings began --- only after Kejriwal’s arrival.
Political rivals Gandhi and Kejriwal have lent support to the 70-year-old Ram Kishan Grewal’s family, even as BJP leaders alleged they are politicising the issue.
The leaders are protesting against the central government’s handling of the controversial pensions programme called ‘One Rank One Pension (OROP)’, which came into force about a year ago.
Grewal, who friends said had unsuccessfully tried to meet defence minister Manohar Parrikar, consumed sulphas tablets in New Delhi on Tuesday and died a day later. He was part of a delegation of ex-servicemen who had travelled from Haryana to the Capital.
Gandhi, Kejriwal and Trinamool Congress’s Derek o’Brien were among the leaders who visited Bamla village for Grewal’s last rites.
Family members wanted to start the ritual of bathing the body before the funeral, but Congress workers stopped them as Gandhi had not arrived.
The Congress leader reached the village around 10.45am. He spent a few minutes at Grewal’s house, offered condolences to the family and then went to the crematorium ground.
Grewal’s body was brought there. But the family did not want to start the rituals since Kejriwal was still on his way. Gandhi could be seen chatting with his partymen.
Kejriwal reached the site around noon. After a few minutes, Grewal’s eldest son, Dilawar, lit the pyre.
Though the leaders appear to be sharing a common cause on attacking the Narendra Modi government, they preferred to maintain distance and stood on the opposite sides.
There was no contact between them. Gandhi was about to leave with his supporters after the pyre was lit, but he returned to say his prayers to the family.
A senior Congress leader from the state told HT that Gandhi was feeling “uneasy”.
Kejriwal visited Grewal’s home after the cremation to talk to the ex-soldier’s son and wife.
Congress national spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, when asked why Gandhi and Kejriwal seemed distant, said: “Nobody is apart. The 125 crore people of this country are together when it comes to the rights of our jawans. It is the Modi government who is not able to hear their cries.”
Gandhi was briefly detained twice on Wednesday during his protest. He was stopped at a protest site in Delhi again on Thursday after returning from Haryana. Kejriwal too said on Wednesday night that he was detained.