The newly-appointed prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Narendra Modi, on 15 September 2013 while addressing a rally of thousands of ex-servicemen in a small district named Rewari in Haryana said, “Friends, our former soldiers have to wander in the hour of need and of illness. Our soldiers, who lost their hands, legs and eyes in the battlefield, who sacrificed themselves for the mother nation… If they have to beg for aid in hospitals and at railway stations, friends there cannot be anything worse that I can imagine… Today I publicly demand from the Government of India on behalf of the army men and ex-service men of this country, to publish a white paper on the status of the One Rank, One Pension scheme.
“ The oratorical skills of Modi had won over the hearts of many ex-servicemen as they thought the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme will finally be implemented. Following the momentum gained from the rally, the OROP scheme found its way into the election manifesto of the BJP for the 2014 General Election, an indirect assurance that the scheme will be implemented if voted to power.
Today, 14 months after BJP’s spectacular win in the polls, the ex-servicemen feel the rally was merely used as a tool to garner votes and nothing else.
Subedar (retd) Om Prakash, 65, boards a bus from Jhajjar in Haryana to New Delhi every alternate day to join a protest by ex-servicemen demanding the implementation of OROP at Jantar Mantar. The veteran, who has been on a relay hunger strike for more than 64 days, said that he will continue to do so till the scheme is implemented.
The ongoing tussle between the ex-servicemen and the Centre took an ugly turn on the eve Independence Day when the peaceful protest by the veterans was deemed a ‘security threat’ by the Delhi Police, who manhandled the veterans and vandalized their make-shift tents.
Lt. (retd) Kameshwar Pandey recalls that nearly 2000 security personnel were deployed, including the Delhi Police, NDMC workers and CRPF jawans, to deal with the protesters.”They manhandled ex-servicemen and started damaging our tents even though we said to them that we would leave peacefully after packing our things. It seems they had a different agenda. They grabbed me from both the sides and tried to push me around. They tore our posters. They dealt with us as though we are criminals, calling us a threat to national security,” says Pandey.
Though truce was called on Tuesday when joint commissioner of police MK Meena reached Jantar Mantar to issue an apology on behalf of the Delhi Police. Addressing the media he said that the use of force against ex-servicemen was regretted and was caused due to confusion and misunderstanding. Meena also assured that such a thing would not be repeated in future.
Anger among the veterans intensified post pm Modi’s address on Independence Day. The veterans eagerly awaiting a concrete word on the implementation of the OROP were left seething with anger when the topic was again brushed aside with no clear date or agenda. Two veterans; Colonel (retd) Pushpender Singh (who was taken to the hospital on Monday) and Havaldar (retd) Major Singh went on an indefinite hunger strike on 16 August demanding the implementation of the OROP and they were later joined by a third ex-serviceman Havaldar Ashok Chauhan. Incidentally, the BJP Union minister and former chief of army staff Gen VK Singh’s daughter Mrinalini Katoch, also joined the protest.
“We are extremely disappointed by the inaction of the government. We were all glued to television screens on the Independence Day hoping that the pm would finally give us a date but we were all disappointed. This is not the way to treat the soldiers who have fought for this country. When PM Modi had come to the Rewari rally before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he had promised us that the OROP would be implemented immediately by his government. It has been 14 months now and there is still no answer. We will fast till death… Till justice is given,” says Colonel Pushpender Singh (retd) .