New Delhi: High-pitched drama surrounded the protest over the delay in implementing the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme on Friday, with police trying to evict ex-servicemen from Jantar Mantar ahead of Independence Day, only to drop this on home ministry orders.
This comes as there is a widespread anticipation of a announcement on OROP by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech on Saturday.
In a crackdown apparently linked to Saturday's Independence Day celebrations, police and civic employees swooped on the protesting retired soldiers at the Jantar Mantar protest site, leading to scuffles.
The day also saw Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi arriving at the spot to express solidarity with the ex-servicemen, only to be turned away after being told that the protest was not to be politicised.
Voicing support for the veterans, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also tweeted, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to accept the OROP demand on Independence Day.A
On Friday morning, the ex-servicemen, who have been staging a sit-in at Jantar Mantar since June 15, got a rude shock when police tried to forcefully evict them, leading to a scuffle.
The police also tried to remove the marquee and other paraphernalia of the protesters. Even as police and NDMC started clearing the protest hotspot, the ex-servicemen refused to go away and alleged that cops manhandled those protesting quietly.
"They call us to handle any emergency, and today police is manhandling us... We will not move from here," said Vishambhar, an 82-year-old veteran.
"I was pushed by the cops who even tore my shirt," he added.
Col. Anil Kaul (retd), the spokesman of the United Front of Ex-Servicemen expressed anger over the situation.
"We have the permission to hold the protest and have been protesting peacefully. This is an attempt to get rid of us as they don't have an answer to our demands," he said.
As criticism of the forcible eviction mounted, the authorities did a quick U-turn and allowed the ex-servicemen to reclaim the site.
DCP New Delhi Vijay Singh told IANS: "Delhi Police has allowed the ex-servicemen to continue their protest for One Rank One Pension at Jantar Mantar", refusing to say why the stand was changed.
Kaul meanwhile said that they received a verbal communication from home ministry and Delhi Police saying the protesters will not be asked to leave.A
As the episode unfolded, Kejriwal expressed solidarity with the agitating veterans, urging the prime minister to fulfil their demands.
"I urge the PM to announce (the) acceptance of the demand of OROP of our ex-servicemen from Red Fort tomorrow," Kejriwal tweeted.
He also slammed the police for trying to forcibly throw them out of the protest site.
"Ex-servicemen being forcibly thrown out of Jantar Mantar? Bizarre. They protected us till yesterday. Now they are a security threat for Independence Day," the Aam Aadmi Party leader tweeted.
"Within a year, the NDA has started behaving the way UPA behaved in its second term. This is how UPA-II would crush movements," he said.
Soon after the incident, the word spread that Gandhi would visit the the protest site, but when he arrived he was asked to go back, the ex-servicemen saying they did not want to politicise the protest.
As he came, there were slogans of "Rahul Gandhi go back".
"Why has he come like this, the people are being pushed back. Where was he for all these days? We are coming here for 62 days," said a woman amid the protesters.
Even as his cut hi visit short, returning in around 10 minutes, Gandhi said the prime minister should give a specific date for implementing the scheme.
"The OROP as promised by the government must be fulfilled. The prime minsiter should give a date," he said at the Jantar Matar in central Delhi where he went to support protesting ex-servicemen over the issue.A
"If he promises to implement OROP by a particular date, the protests will end. The PM has promised to implement OROP, he just need to say one thing that it'll be implemented by this particular date," he said.
The protest demanding implementation of OROP started June 14, with the veterans starting a relay hunger strike from June 15.
Pressure on government for making an announcement soon has been increasing, with four former service chiefs writing an open letter to President Pranab Mukherjee, the supreme commander of the armed forces, stating that the ex-servicemen's agitation could have "grave implications for national security" as it had severely impacted the Indian military's morale and self-esteem.
The letter was signed by former Indian Navy chiefs Admiral Arun Prakash, Admiral L. Ramdas and Admiral Sureesh Mehta, and former Indian Army chief General S.F. Rodrigues. They are the senior-most officers to associate with the agitation.
There are around 24 lakh retired servicemen in the country, and around 6.5 lakh widows who will benefit from the implementation of OROP.
Currently, the pension for retired personnel is based on the Pay Commission recommendations at the time when the individual retired.
This leads to a difference in pension for officers and soldiers of the same rank who retire on different dates.
With OROP, retired personnel would draw the same pension as officers and soldiers of the same rank who are retiring now.
They would also be entitled to a year's back pay in pensions at the new rate, which would be a windfall for pensioners.