Kejriwal, Rahul detained as veteran’s suicide triggers row
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 the OROP scheme. Gandhi, detained twice during the day, and Sisodia were let off at night.
Kejriwal and Gandhi were detained amid noisy 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, Jaswant said he had never witnessed such police conduct vis-a-vis veterans’ families.
After nine hours of unexplained detention, Sisodia walked out of the Parliament Street police station at night and drove to the R.K. Puram police station where Kejriwal was detained along with fellow minister Gopal Rai.
Speaking after his release, Sisodia said: “When a former soldier commits suicide in Delhi, is it not my moral and administrative duty to go and meet the family? What is wrong with that? Why were we detained? This is an undeclared Emergency in Delhi.”
A senior police officer told IANS that Kejriwal and the dead soldier’s family members would also be allowed to leave soon. The officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, insisted that no one had been arrested but could not explain why the family was detained for hours at a police station.
As the tug of war played out, the Bharatiya Janata Party accused Gandhi and Kejriwal of politicizing the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme.
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 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”.
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 news channels.
By evening the soldier’s suicide snowballed into a major political row with the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Trinamool Congress slamming 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 goondagardi,” Kejriwal said. “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 with some 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. She called it “unacceptable”.
Kejriwal first denounced Modi after Sisodia’s detention and then drove to the Lady Hardinge Hospital where the dead soldier’s autopsy was to be 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.