Police detained Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday — the third time in two days — as a political storm intensified over retired soldier Ram Kishan Grewal who killed himself in protest against an unequal pension policy for military veterans.
The detention drama follows a VVIP parade to a Haryana village earlier in the day for the funeral of the 70-year-old decorated soldier. Gandhi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal met his relatives at Bamla village in Bhiwani district and attended the last rites.
Kejriwal promised a Rs 1-crore compensation to the family and a job for a relative of the deceased ex-serviceman. He also announced that his government will grant martyr status to the retired subedar, who served the army for 28 years till 2004.
Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar said Grewal cannot be called a martyr because brave soldiers do not take their own lives, while Union minister Gen VK Singh called the dead man a Congress worker after doubting his mental stability.
On Thursday evening, Gandhi and party colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia were made to sit in a police van, after they walked a little distance during a Congress-organised candle-lit vigil from Jantar Mantar to India Gate. They were detained near Janpath Metro station.
“The way his family members were dragged and abused in the police station was incorrect. This affects the morale of our soldiers. The government must apologise,” Gandhi said as Congress protesters shouted slogans against the Narendra Modi government.
Gandhi and Scindia, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia were detained on Wednesday too when they tried to meet relatives of the retired soldier at a central Delhi hospital where the body was kept. Grewal’s family members were detained too.
The Congress leader found support on this count from an unusual quarter — BJP ally Shiv Sena, which has been criticising the government on various issues of late. “What kind of an attitude is this? The action of Delhi police was condemnable and shameful,” Sena leader Arvind Sawant said.
Political theatrics overshadowed Grewal’s death after he took Sulphas tablets at a park in New Delhi on Tuesday evening, allegedly for being denied an audience with defence minister Manohar Parrikar, and died the next day.
“Won’t let his death go in vain. Will snatch OROP from the central government,” Kejriwal said in Bhiwani.
BJP leaders lashed out at the Congress and Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party for “politicising” the death. But comments from Khattar and Singh, a retired army chief, were viewed as insensitive and faced criticism.
“He committed suicide for personal reasons. Our Prime Minister implemented OROP unlike the Congress who failed to do so,” the Haryana chief minister said.
For his part, Union minister Singh remarked: “He fought sarpanch elections on a Congress ticket. His suicide is unfortunate.”
Defence minister Manohar Parikkar took a reconciliatory stand, announcing that the government will soon sort out “some technical issue” to ensure all soldiers get OROP, the “one rank one pension” programme the government approved last year.
Grewal was actively involved in the veterans’ longstanding demand for OROP, which promises to equalise pension payments for retired military personnel who served at the same rank and for the same amount of time, regardless of the year they retired.
Congress national spokesperson Randeep Surjewala called the government’s response insensible, saying defence minister Manohar Parrikar should have come to Bhiwani to offer condolences to the bereaved family.
“When it comes to demand of justice for soldiers, 125 crore people are united. But this government is not able to see the tears of the soldiers,” he said.