New Delhi: An interim budget is about vote catching and the announcement of the 'One Rank One Pension' scheme is perhaps the one expenditure which the government is hoping will pay immediate dividends. The defence budget has been raised by 10 per cent out of which Rs 500 crore will be earmarked for the implementation of the scheme which has been a long standing demand of the ex-servicemen.
Soon after the announcement, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, who had given a push to the 'One Rank, One Pension' demand of ex-servicemen, called the government's decision to accept the long-standing plea with Finance Minister P Chidambaram 'historic'.
"I thank the government, the Prime Minister and the Congress President for this historic step. The soldiers must feel that the government is with them. I thank all of them for fighting for our country," Rahul said.
The 24-lakh strong ex-servicemen community cheered the announcement and Rahul Gandhi walked away with the credit. The 'One Rank One Pension' demand, pending for almost 15 years, has been approved in the interim budget. The approval by the government comes two days after the Congress Vice President met retired soldiers on the issue and four days before he addresses an ex-servicemen rally in Uttarakhand.
The servicemen though say that their decision to vote will not change with the FM's announcement. "We all know why the announcement has come now. This will not benefit UPA. The soldiers have made up their minds who to vote for. Our fight is not over yet, we will fight for it's implementation," ex-Servicemen Association President Lieutenant General Raj Kadyan said.
"This is the first good thing Rahul Gandhi has done so far. I don't see one rank one pension shifting ex-servicemen votes towards the Congress," defence expert Bharat Verma said.
In an election where every vote will matter, this is competitive politics at it's best. At an ex-servicemen rally in Rewari, the BJP's PM candidate Narendra Modi had already promised One Rank One Pension.
The move essentially means that retired soldiers of the same rank and length of service will receive the same pension, regardless of when they retire. Currently, pensioners who retired before 2006 receive less pension than their counterparts. The annual bill is estimated to be Rs 2000 crore annually - but the Congress is hoping for dividends in the next 3 months.
The Congressmen were quick to give the credit of the decision to Rahul Gandhi. "All credit goes to Rahul Gandhi," MoS Defence Jitendra Singh.
Union Minister Rajiv Shukla, too, said, "It is a good decision. It should be appreciated. It was taken following the initiative taken by Rahul Gandhi in the matter."
While the Congress is patting its back over the decision, the BJP claimed that the policy was introduced by them. "The Congress can take credit but the BJP introduced it. We would have liked to hear some announcement on the next pay commission," BJP leader Jaswant Singh said.
For the forces, One Rank One Pension has always been an emotive issue. It saw the veterans go on hunger strikes and return 22,000 bravery medals to the government. It is unclear if the Finance Minister's announcement on Monday will win any votes for Rahul Gandhi in the upcoming Lok Sabha Polls, but for all soldiers, retired and serving, it is certainly a moment to celebrate.