Until September, the most famous fauji landmark in Rewari was a memorial to the heroes of Rezang La, a battle of 1962 when outnumbered soldiers of the Kumaon regiment held their own against the Chinese. At the centre of a region known for its contribution to the armed forces, Rewari was chosen in September by Narendra Modi to kick start his campaign. The stage included retired personnel who said the rally was “apolitical”. As it turns out, most of them have by now joined politics, Gen (retired) V K Singh with the BJP, Lt Gen (retd) Raj Kadyan with the AAP and Rajyavardhan Rathore with the BJP.
The 30 lakh-plus ex-servicemen are being wooed like never before, including with an appeasement strategy by the UPA to grant the one-rank, one-pension demand.
Though the most high-profile ex-servicemen are BJP candidates, there is no decipherable en bloc movement within the community to vote for a particular party. In Rewari itself, though the BJP has made inroads largely due to Gurgaon candidate Rao Inderjit Singh, the community is divided on local issues and even caste. “Because Rao Inderjit is a local leader certainly many ex-servicemen will vote for him. But also, a sizeable number will want to vote for those who have granted OROP,” says Col (retd) Ranbir Singh, whose elder brother was part of the 13 Kumaon regiment.
In Bhiwani, votes from the military community are as divided. In V K Singh’s Bapoda village, there is an open debate with a large part leaning towards Congress’s sitting MP Shruti Choudhary. “Most of the votes here are for the Congress. OROP is something that will make me vote for it,” says Vijay Singh, who retired from the Rajput regiment in 2006.
The sarpanch, who belongs to the Valmiki community, too feels the Congress’s local candidate would get sizeable support. “It is true that for the first time several people here will vote for the BJP but most of the votes are still for the Congress. If V K Singh himself had contested from here, it would have been different,” says Sunil Kumar Valmiki, the village head.
Rohtak’s Bhishan village is home to Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, vice chief of army staff who is anticipated to take over as the next chief. Though posters of the Aam Aadmi Party abound, elders say the voters are divided with the Congress having an edge. “Our village has always been a Congress supporter,” says Raj Singh, the pradhan who retired as a naik from the JAKLI regiment in 2001. He concedes that the BJP has made inroads and that several from the village would for the first time shift their loyalty.
“Whoever looks after security and after the interests of defence personnel needs to be supported. We have sent out a demand list to all parties… on key issues. But in the end, the choice has been left to the individual faujis themselves,” says Maj Gen (retd) Satbir Singh.