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A 70-YEAR-OLD ex-serviceman committed suicide by consuming poison at Janpath on Tuesday, allegedly over the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme, triggering a political firestorm and leading to dramatic scenes in the capital today, with police detaining Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
Doctors at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital said that ex-serviceman Ram Kishan Grewal was brought to the hospital on Tuesday afternoon and died a few hours later during the treatment. The victim’s associates claimed that he had consumed “Salfas tablets” at around 1 pm, after being allegedly denied permission to meet Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to hand over a petition on “full implementation” of the OROP scheme.
On Wednesday morning, police prevented Rahul Gandhi from entering the hospital to meet the victim’s family and detained Sisodia at the premises. Later, police detained Gandhi, too, and took both leaders to the Mandir Marg police station. Kejriwal was detained later at the Lady Hardinge Hospital where Grewal’s body had been taken around 7.30 am for post-mortem.
Kejriwal was confined in his car for hours outside the Lady Hardinge hospital before being taken to the R K Puram station — he was at the station until nearly midnight after . Gandhi was detained again later while trying to meet Grewal’s family.
Police also detained some of Grewal’s family members, including his two sons, other retired servicemen and Congress leaders Randeep Singh Surjewala and Kiran Chaudhary. They were held at different police stations in the city for a few hours before being allowed to leave.
WATCH VIDEO: OROP Suicide: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi Attends Cremation Of Ex-Serviceman
While Gandhi and Kejriwal lashed out at the Centre over the suicide, police action and OROP issue, Defence Minister Parrikar expressed his “heartfelt condolences” over Grewal’s death and said that he has asked his ministry to provide him with details.
Union Minister V K Singh, however, questioned the “mental state” of Grewal. “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 kept above politics,” Singh told reporters. Singh’s statement was slammed by Opposition parties, with Congress leader R P N Singh saying that it was “unbecoming” of a former Army chief to bring the mental state of a deceased veteran into question. “It is unfortunate that a former Army chief is raising such questions,” said the former Union minister.
Delhi Police said they had blocked entry to the hospitals to avoid “disruption of health services”. A spokesperson said that that action was taken according to law and that all the leaders were detained under Section 65 the Delhi Police Act, for disregarding police directions, and later allowed to go.
Hitting out at the government, Gandhi said that he had only wanted to meet Grewal’s family “for two minutes to share their grief”. “The government locked up the family the whole day. I went to the hospital alone, all the gates were closed. When the family came out to meet me, they were pushed and beaten and bundled into a jeep and taken to the station,” he said.
He later tweeted: “I urge the PM once again: soldiers should not have to struggle to claim what is their due. OROP must be implemented in a meaningful way.” Kejriwal accused the government of indulging in violence. “If someone commits suicide, can’t I come and meet the family? Can the government be indulging in goonda gardi?” he asked.
“The Army is being deceived and misused for political gains. His (Grewal’s) martyrdom should not go in vain,” said Kejriwal. Sisodia described his detention as a “non-democratic action”. “How can you push me in the bus when I have come to meet the family without creating any problem?” he said.
The BJP hit back by accusing Gandhi and Kejriwal of indulging in “politics over death” and saying that the government had fulfilled its commitment on OROP, unlike the previous governments headed by the Congress. “The suicide of ex-serviceman Ram Kishan Grewal is unfortunate and our sympathies are with his family. What is even more unfortunate is the politics over his death. As far as OROP is concerned, the government has fulfilled its commitment and ex-servicemen are benefitting from it,” said Shrikant Sharma, the party’s national secretary.
“What Rahul Gandhi and Kejriwal are doing is nothing but politics over death. It seems they keep looking to do politics wherever such deaths occur,” said Sharma said in a statement. Parrikar, meanwhile, tweeted: “Saddened by the death of subedar Ram Kishan Grewal. I express my heartfelt condolences. I have asked officials to provide me with details.”
According to friends and relatives of Grewal, he was part of the long-running protest by a group of ex-servicemen at Janpath seeking the implementation of the OROP scheme. They said that Grewal, who hailed from Bhiwani in Haryana, had served in the Army and Defence Security Corps (DSC) for 30 years. Grewal’s son said that his father had left behind a suicide note.
Defence ministry sources said Grewal had served the Territorial Army for six years and 11 months after which he served in the DSC. Sources said there may have been a delay in Grewal receiving the revised pension “due to problems in calculation at his bank”. His case could have been resolved if he had directly approached the ministry, they claimed.
“It demands a serious investigation into who was with the deceased when he took the extreme step, who provided the poison and whether anyone took advantage of his troubled mind and provoked him to take the extreme step,” said a senior ministry official.
At RML Hospital, clutching medals and certificates won by Grewal during service, his son Jaswant told The Indian Express that his father had “martyred himself for the cause of OROP”. “We were resting at a park near Jawahar Bhawan in Janpath while returning to our protest site at Jantar Mantar. I saw Grewal suddenly eat something before falling unconscious. Immediately, we called the police and he was rushed to hospital,” retired subedar Prithvi Singh, one of the OROP protesters, told The Indian Express.
Grewal’s suicide came just days after a one-man judicial committee on OROP — Justice L Narasimha Reddy, a retired Chief Justice of Patna High Court — had submitted its report to Parrikar on various issues linked to the implementation of the scheme, which had been a long-standing demand of ex-servicemen.