Ex-servicemen demanding implementation of a one-rank-one-pension (OROP) scheme accused police of a barbaric crackdown on their demonstration a day ahead of Independence Day, questioning how soldiers who dedicate their lives protecting the country can become a security threat.
A section of the agitating ex-servicemen also heckled Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who had visited their protest site at Jantar Mantar in a show of solidarity with them, as their anger and frustration spilled over after nearly two months of protests.
The ex-servicemen have been pressing for uniform pension for defence personnel who retire in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement.
Close to 22 lakh ex-servicemen and over six lakh war widows stand to be immediate beneficiaries of the scheme. Currently, the pension for ex-servicemen is based on the pay commission recommendations of the time when they had retired.
Though there are expectations of an announcement on the issue by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Independence Day speech, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said there are “technical difficulties” in implementing it.
He, however, added that the government was committed to OROP, a key promise of the ruling BJP ahead of Lok Sabha polls last year.
“We will fulfill the assurances that we have given in this regard...When we have said this, the government has to do it within its tenure and we will do it quite early. We are bound by our assurance. We will comply with our assurance,” he said.
The agitating ex-servicemen also reaffirmed their faith in Modi but said the police crackdown was an insult to their years of selfless service.
It will be a “black Independence Day as they have tried to curb our independence,” said retired group captain VK Gandhi.
“The way the police have acted against us just a day before Independence day is totally unjustified.”
The police said they tried to evict protestors from various organisations from Jantar Mantar in the heart of the national Capital as a security measure ahead of the Independence Day celebrations.
“I was pushed by the cops who even tore my shirt,” said 82-year-old Vishambhar.
Later, minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju called up Delhi Police commissioner BS Bassi, ordering him that the defence veterans should not be removed from the protest site.
“I have asked the commissioner of police not to remove the ex-servicemen from Jantar Mantar and let them continue the protest,” Rijiju said.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi challenged Modi to come out with a date bringing in the OROP scheme.
“Now, we just want a date, these people want a date,” he said.
However, some of the ex-servicemen termed Gandhi’s visit as a political gimmick.
Retd Major General Mohan Singh (74), said, “Rahul Gandhi is welcome to visit our protest but we won’t allow politicisation of the OROP issue. We will allow no politician to share this stage.”
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Kameshwar Pandey (66), a member of the governing body of the protesters accused the previous UPA government of not listening to their demands.
“We are hoping Modi will keep his promise to us,” he added.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also came out in support of the ex-servicemen and slammed the police for trying to evict them from Jantar Mantar.
(With inputs from agencies)