Rahul Gandhi, Arun Jaitley trade salvos, fuel Orop war

New Delhi. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of lying over the issue of uniform pensions for retired defence personnel, prompting Union finance minister Arun Jaitley to return fire, the latest in a slugfest likely to disrupt Parliament’s upcoming session. Mr Jaitley tore into the Congress for “not having allocated even Rs 1” towards the retiral policy when it was in power.

Several top Opposition leaders, including Mr Gandhi, were briefly detained during protests on Wednesday and Thursday after an ex-soldier killed himself, accusing the Centre of not implementing the one-rank-one-pension scheme with all the benefits promised.

“For 10 years when the Congress was in power Orop was not implemented. The NDA is the first government which not only accepted the Orop demand, but also implemented it,” the minister said.

Despite government claims, sections of retired soldiers have been alleging that many of their concerns about disparity in pension payments have not been addressed.

However Mr Jaitley said the sympathy that has arisen today is politically motivated. “It doesn’t behove senior national leaders to exploit a tragedy of this kind, particularly in intensive care units of hospitals. A more responsible behaviour is expected of them, he said.

Earlier, Mr Gandhi met a group of veterans and said that what the PM refers to is actually pension enhancement and nor Orop. “PM should stop lying. Orop is the right of the armed forces and government will have to give it,” said Mr Gandhi, who was detained thrice in two days during protests over the suicide by Army veteran Ram Kishan Grewal.

Accusing the government of waiving loans of worth Rs 1.10 lakh crore of 15 big industrialists, the Congress leader said it has nothing to give to soldiers protesting at Jantar-Mantar for months. Mr Gandhi asked the government to apologise for the police manhandling of Grewal’s family during protests.

Major General (retd) Satbir Singh said, “We have apprised Rahul Gandhi of the subject and our demands. It is the duty of every Parliamentarian to raise the issue in Parliament and help the ex-servicemen get their rights.”

In UP’s Rampur, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi termed protests by Mr Gandhi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal over Orop a “political drama” and a “conspiracy” to demoralise the country’s security forces.

“Those who have forgotten national interest for their narrow political interests have also forgotten that their act will wipe out their remaining political base,” he said.

Top Opposition leaders, including Mr Gandhi and Mr Kejriwal, scrambled to Grewal’s Haryana village to attend his funeral on Thursday and attacked the Centre. Mr Gandhi, who was detained and released twice on Wednesday while trying to meet Grewal’s family in a Delhi hospital, was briefly detained again on Thursday evening from Jantar Mantar.

The row has erupted days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent Diwali with soldiers to bolster the Centre’s pro-Army campaign following September’s anti-terror surgical strikes across the LoC.

The Centre approved the retiral policy — a major election issue in 2014 — last year and recently paid Rs 5,500 crore as its first installment, but sections of ex-servicemen say concerns remain.

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