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BJP gets backing of retired soldiers

BJP gets backing of retired soldiers

Author: Sridhar Kumaraswami
Publication: Haindava Keralam
Date: April 12, 2009
URL: http://www.haindavakeralam.com/HKPage.aspx?PageID=8566&SKIN=B

It's official now. The Indian Ex-servicemen's Movement on Sunday decided to back the BJP in the coming general election and extended "advice" to 24 lakh ex-servicemen across the country to vote for the BJP.

Announcing the decision of the "core group", former Army deputy chief Lt. Gen. Raj Kadyan (Retd) told ex-servicemen at a protest meeting here on Sunday: "BJP leader L.K. Advani told us that the BJP would ensure the implementation of the 'one-rank-one-pension' demand if it comes back to power. This is the truth. I'm sure Mr Advani will fulfil this promise. I will vote for the BJP. I think we should vote for the BJP."

Lt. Gen. Kadyan made no secret of the disillusionment of ex-servicemen with the UPA government, which had rejected the "one-rank-one-pension" demand. "I was merely making the announcement (advice to vote for BJP) on behalf of the core group of the movement. The decision was unani-

mous," Lt. Gen. Kadyan told reporters later.

When asked if this amounted to the "saffronisation" of ex-servicemen, Lt. Gen. Kadyan said: "No. That is not the case. We will vote for the party which gives us justice. If the BJP does not deliver on its promise in case it comes to power, then we will oppose them too."

When asked whether the decision could evoke opposition due to controversies over the Gujarat riots of 2002 and the Kandhamal riots last year, Lt. Gen. Kadyan told reporters: "Every party can be questioned. But the BJP has promised to ensure justice for us. That's why we have decided to keep these issues (Gujarat and Kandhamal) aside."

Despite the advice to vote for the BJP, Lt. Gen. Kadyan also told ex-servicemen that the movement would support ex-servicemen candidates from wherever they contest since they understand the plight of ex-servicemen much better than civilians.

However, a few ex-servicemen at the meeting did express some reservations in private over the "advice". "I made it clear we will vote for those who support us. It is not as if we are voting for the BJP on ideological grounds," said one former officer who did not want to be identified.

The decision of the ex-servicemen's movement to vote for the BJP is also bound to evoke opposition from some like Samajwadi Party candidate for Lucknow Nafisa Ali. Ms Ali had attended a protest meeting of the movement in New Delhi last year since she is an ex-serviceman's wife, but people like her will be in no position to endorse the appeal to vote for the BJP. Her party, the SP, is also firmly opposed to the BJP on ideological grounds.

It may be recalled that the BJP, in its election manifesto, had promised a slew of welfare measures for armed forces personnel such as income-tax exemption and resolution of all pay grievances, and had also promised implementation of the "one-rank-one-pension" demand.

Lt. Gen. Kadyan also sought to allay any fears of politicisation of the armed forces, saying the armed forces had always obeyed civil authority, irrespective of who was in power. He said that sometimes, even when the armed forces knew that a certain decision was not in the national interest (such as dispatch of the IPKF to Sri Lanka in the 1980s), the forces still implemented the government's decision.

But at the same time, he pointed out that since the military too had the right to vote, it was also the vote-seeker's right to convince military voters on why they should vote for them. "Some amount of politicisation is therefore important," Lt. Gen. Kadyan said.

Scores of demonstrators had gathered at the venue of the protest meeting near Ashoka Road here. A large section of the protesters were from neighbouring Haryana. Former soldiers in their rural attire along with former senior officers in Western outfits complete with ties came together on a common platform to press for justice. However, a few former service chiefs who are members of the movement were conspicuous by their absence on Sunday.

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