Ram Kishan Grewal did not die in a secluded corner of his village because of some personal problem. He killed himself at Jantar Mantar to draw attention to the grievances of soldiers over the implementation of One Rank One Pension (Orop) by the government.
Before he died, Grewal reportedly wrote a note saying that he was "sacrificing his life for the soldiers and the country." After consuming poisonous pills, he reportedly told his family that his death was in protest against the government's failure to implement its promise. What does this tell us about Grewal's death? It tells us that he did not die to be given a quiet cremation in his village.
He sacrificed his life to draw attention to the fact that army veterans are being denied benefits they want, the pension they were promised. He killed himself to expose the half-truths being peddled by politicians on Orop amidst the din of rousing declarations of love for our Army.
So, what is wrong if his death has led to a political storm across the country? What is wrong if politicians are rushing to his funeral, talking about Orop, listening to the voice of soldiers instead of the empty slogans reverberating in their echo chambers?
Let us give it to the ex-veteran: In death, he won a battle that he couldn't win in life. He has achieved what Rajeev Goswami did when he set himself afire during the anti-Mandal protests, what Rohith Vemula did when he died in his hostel room — light up a flame that has turned into an inferno nobody can ignore.
The BJP's discomfiture, with the hungama his death has created, is understandable. For the past few weeks, it has been trying to hard-sell itself as a party that cares for soldiers, holds them in high esteem and weeps tears of blood on their sacrifices. Like the Ram Temple in the past and the cow till recently, the BJP has been trying to use the Army as an emotive issue, creating the usual deshbhakt (patriot) vs deshdrohi (traitor) binary.
The truth, of course, is contrary to perception. Just when BJP workers were putting up posters across UP to claim credit for Army's surgical strikes along the LoC, the defence ministry was busy devaluing the status of officers vis-a-vis civil servants, facing charges of cutting down their disability pension.
The fallout of Grewal's suicide has the potential to inflict incalculable harm on the government and the BJP. Orop is a complex financial muddle, it has nuances that a common man would find difficult to understand. But, if the government acquires the image of only paying lip service to the Army, using its achievements for political gains on the one hand but ignoring the demands of soldiers, its plan to benefit from positioning itself as a the only well-wisher of soldiers gets countered by uncomfortable questions.
Unfortunately, in its bid to contain the fallout, BJP is repeating the mistakes it made in Vemula's death. By questioning his mental state and intent, by insinuating that Grewal was a Congress worker and his death was a political conspiracy, BJP is coming across as insensitive and full of the kind of hubris that led to the decline of the UPA two years ago. Thankfully, so far, nobody has argued that Grewal was not an Army veteran and set up a commission to probe his antecedents, caste and family background. But, since it has not learned from the Vemula episode, nothing can be ruled out.
Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal are, like immaculate political scavengers, trying to benefit from the controversy. Both of have them have the nauseating habit of turning up next to dead bodies with a half-grin and contemptuous smirk. They have become known practitioners of the theory that every death gives birth to a new political dream.
Gandhi's hypocrisy is even more deplorable. After castigating the government for indulging in "khoon ki dalali", he has shamelessly embraced rajneeti of funerals. In a few weeks, Gandhi would forget Grewal's death and embrace some other cause, exposing his shallow and opportunistic politics.
Unfortunately, hypocrisy is a tribute all Indian politicians pay to their own past. And the BJP, with its history of taking out gaurav (pride) yatras after the Gujarat riots, giving public funerals to kar sevaks killed in Ayodhya and rushing to reward martyrs even when security forces were battling the 26/11 terrorists in Mumbai, just evokes mirth and laughter when it castigates Gandhi and Kejriwal for doing today what it had done in the past.