The prime minister had started out to read from his prepared speech. But he promptly decided against sticking to the written text. It is not unusual for Singh to make last-minute changes – additions and deletions –as he reads out his speech. But aides indicated that discarding the prepared speech was unusual.
Singh’s audience were a group of 30 students undergoing professional courses, all of them wards of ex-servicemen and retired para-military personnel. They are among the 3,915 beneficiaries of the scheme formally launched by the prime minister on Tuesday. Eligible female students would annually receive Rs 18,000 under the scheme, the male students, Rs 15,000.
Daughter of a retired chief petty officer in the Navy, a jubilant Ashwani Patil from Kolapur was one of them. "I am very excited," the undergraduate student of dental surgery at Belgaum said. Asked if it was the money that had brought the smile on her face or the recognition, she shyly said: "the financial assistance".
A senior government official associated with drawing-up the scheme said this was the only scholarship awarded by the government where the financial assistance was significant. Among the hierarchy-driven defence services, the scheme is also touted to be unique because 95 per cent of the beneficiaries would be wards of non-commissioned ex-servicemen. Wards of officers would be considered only if the officers have died in harness.
Singh also skipped the part of his speech noting sacrifices by the soldiers. Instead, he called their children the “most patriotic citizens” and the 20 lakh ex-servicemen as the people “who represent the best in the value system in our country”.
And he went back to the subject closest to his heart: health and education. Singh said he had recently inquired how Himachal Pradesh could leapfrog the race for human resource development. “The answer I got was the presence of large number of ex-servicemen… when they retire, they carry the message that education, healthcare facilities are essential for improving the quality of life”.