14 May 2009
Cong AWOL for long, ex-servicemen stay with BJP
Posted online: Thursday , May 14, 2009 at 0148 hrs
New Delhi : As the last phase of polls approached, the Congress made a last ditch effort to woo ex-servicemen in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh — which have a sizeable chunk of this section of the electorate — assuring higher pension for retired personnel and announcing an increase in compensation for war casualties.
However, despite the last minute ‘decision’ to set up a committee for the One Rank One Pension (OROP) demand of retired soldiers, the large ex-servicemen community in these states is expected to vote in favour of the BJP, largely due to an influential organisation that started the countrywide protest against an ‘unfair deal’ in the Sixth Pay Commission.
The Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM), which mobilised thousands of soldiers to return their medals to the President as a form of protest earlier this year, is leaving no stone unturned to campaign for the BJP, which has included the touchy OROP issue in its manifesto.
“The only national party that has taken up the issue of the OROP is the BJP. That is why we have decided to support the cause. We are united in our demand for the same pension to all retirees,” says Lt Gen (retd) Raj Kadiyan, chairperson of the IESM.
This demand has emerged as the unifying factor for several ex-servicemen organisations that have come together under the IESM umbrella.
Incidentally, this is the first time ever in the history of the Armed Forces that an organised movement has declared its support for a political party. In the past, while smaller organisations would pledge support to a particular party, the community at large was perceived as being politically neutral.
From public meetings in Uttarakhand and Punjab by senior retired officers to mass e-mails, the IESM has managed, for the first time, to get the message through to ex-soldiers — to pledge ‘issue-based’ support to the BJP.
“We have been moving around meeting ex-servicemen in states across the country. We are telling former soldiers that a lot of wrong has been done to us in the Pay Commission and that our main demand for One Rank One Pension has only been taken up by the BJP,” says Lt Gen Kadiyan.
While public meetings and press statements are the preferred medium of reaching out to soldiers in villages, the movement is using the Internet extensively to remain in touch with retired officers and their families.
The movement even has a website (www.iesm.org) which is updated on a daily basis. Lt Gen Kadiyan also maintains a regular blog as well as a mailing list that is subscribed to by a large section of ex-servicemen.
But with military prudence, the movement is also distancing itself from any ideology by making it clear that it is offering “one-time support” to the BJP for its commitment to the OROP cause.“There is very strong suspicion that the Congress will never take up the matter. We do not support the ideology of the BJP but are giving it support only for the cause of ex-servicemen,” Kadiyan clarifies