New Delhi: 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?”
Gandhi, who the veteran’s family wanted to meet, was detained twice and released. The Congress leader was first taken to the Mandir Marg Police Station where the dead soldier’s son Jaswant too was detained along with some of his grieving family members.
“You have no shame? He is a son of an army veteran… you are arresting them,” a livid Gandhi told a police officer.
Gandhi blamed Modi for the situation. “This is an undemocratic mentality. A new kind of India is being created. It is Modiji’s India.”
Kejriwal’s detention triggered an angry reaction from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as well as his supporters in the capital.
“What’s happening? Unprecedented. A CM is detained in his own state. He cannot move about freely. Unacceptable,” Banerjee tweeted.
Kejriwal first denounced Modi after Sisodia’s detention and then drove to the Lady Hardinge Hospital where the dead soldier’s autopsy was conducted. When he spoke to the soldier’s family and tried to meet them at a police station in Connaught Place, his car was surrounded by police who announced the AAP leader had been detained.
Late on Wednesday, Kejriwal was driven to the R.K. Puram police station in south Delhi along with fellow minister Gopal Rai. The AAP said it would organize nationwide protests against the Modi government over OROP.
Amid protests and the criticism, Home Minister Rajnath Singh defended the police and said: “I don’t have anything to say. Police will do what it has to for risk reduction.”