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26/11 commando ready for a different battle

Last updated on: November 27, 2013 13:11 IST

26/11 commando ready for a different battle

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Sumit Bhattacharya

Commando Surender Singh was injured fighting terrorists at the Taj Mahal hotel in the 26/11 attacks. Now, as an Aam Aadmi Party candidate for the Delhi assembly elections, he says he is fighting corruption. Rediff.com's Sumit Bhattacharya reports.

The 'zyadti' or injustice he faced from the government after the 26/11 attacks is what made him take up politics, says Surender Singh, National Security Guard commando turned Aam Aadmi Party candidate for the Delhi assembly elections.

Singh was part of Operation Black Tornado, the fight against terrorists at the Taj Mahal hotel after 26/11.

He says he killed two terrorists despite being injured himself. Singh lost his hearing when a grenade went off next to him.

He spent 19 months trying to get the government to pay his pension. His case made headlines. The Indian Army and the government said all the dues were paid.

The details were fuzzy in a maze of technicality. For instance, Singh's service of 14 years, three months and 10 days -- he also saw action in the Kargil War -- was terminated on medical grounds. His claim for pension was rejected by the Grenadiers because that fell short of the 15 years of service needed.

Singh says he met and tried to meet many politicians for 19 months to help his cause -- including Rahul Gandhi, who Singh claims refused to meet him.

Singh, who now wears a hearing aid and lives with his wife, their two children, his mother, grandmother and brother, claims the government did not even pay his medical bills in full.

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Image: Smoke billows from the Taj Mahal hotel during the 26/11 attacks.


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Sumit Bhattacharya

Singh says the government only paid his dues six months after he went to the media and India Against Corruption took up his cause.

"Ek cricketer ek chhakka mar deta hai toh crore-on milta hai usko, aur aap socho 19 mahine kaise ek sipahi apna guzara karega? (a cricketer gets crores if he hits a six, how does a soldier survive for 19 months without money?)," he asks.

"Cricket khelne toh nahi gaya thha (I didn't go to play cricket)," he adds with the wry Haryanvi humour of the National Capital Region.

It takes a private sector employee roughly four months -- from the day of quitting -- to get Provident Fund dues, if one chooses to close that PF account.

"My case was a highlighted one -- 26/11 was a high-profile case -- but who knows how many people like me are out there?" Singh says. "Widows running from pillar to post for their dues after their husbands became martyrs for the country."

He says the zyadti was also in the form of lack of state honours for disabled commandos including him. Only Anna Hazare has felicitated him, Singh says.

"A commando fights for honour," Singh declares.

It was then, he says, he realised, "Sab gandgi rajneeti ne failayi rakkhi hai, jab tak rajneeti mein achhi logon ki entry nahi hogi tab tak kuchh nahi badlega (All the filth is from politics, nothing will change until good people join it)."

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Image: Smoke billows out of the Taj during the concluding hours of the operation.
Photographs: Reuters

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Sumit Bhattacharya

The people of Delhi Cantonment, his constituency where most defence personnel retire to, also wanted a soldier to fight elections for them, he says.

"I have no money to contest elections; neither do I have a political background. I have always been a soldier," he says.

The people, he says, are funding his campaign, unlike his opponents "jo paise ke bal mein rajneeti karte hain. Kaam toh kuchh hai nahi (who do politics on the strength of money, not work for the people.)

How does he remember 26/11?

He says he remembers how the country was watching in horror as they took on terrorists. How the terrorists were lobbing grenades at them inside the Taj.

"Jaan ki baazi lagi thhi (It was a gamble with death)."

His son Pulkit had been born four days before, and he had not even met his first child.

He also remembers the home minister meeting the commandos throughout the night of November 26, 2008. "Kapde badal ke a raha thha (every time he had fresh clothes on)," Singh says.

"You are educated folk," continues Singh, who has an MA in Hindi, who has also been a part-time teacher and who says he is studying for another master's degree in political science. "You will remember we were delayed because the NSG aircraft had a snag and an aircraft had to be brought in from Chandigarh. When the home minister wants to go somewhere there will be multiple aircraft ready and tested. But when so many Indians were trapped, they didn't even have a plane ready for commandos."

All commandos are always ready to deploy in 20 minutes, points out Singh.

"Nowhere should such a thing happen. So many innocent people killed. I only hope it does not happen again."

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Image: NSG commandos
Photographs: Press Information Bureau

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Sumit Bhattacharya

How does he reckon his chances against Karan Singh Tanwar, the Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Delhi Cantonment?

"Unko to badi asani se hara raha hu, koi dikkat nahi( Am defeating him easily, no problem)."

Surender Singh is also confident the Aam Aadmi Party will win the Delhi election.

"You ask anybody," he declares. "Everybody wants change. Earlier there was no option, only Congress-BJP. The BJP has been running MCD (the Municipal Corporation of Delhi) for years now. Nothing works without a bribe there; it takes Rs 500 for a baby to be born (meaning the bribe needed for a birth certificate). Karan Singh in the last elections showed assets of Rs 1.7 crore. This year he has declared assets of Rs 18 crores. His annual income he says is Rs 7 lakhs. How is it possible then that in five years he amasses so much money?"

What was it like being a commando?

"They are like family," Singh says of his NSG colleagues. "We keep in touch, we try to help each other out."

Does he miss that military camaraderie, that adrenaline rush of going into battle?

"Mere liye toh yeh jang hai," Surender Singh replies. Chunao toh unke liye hai -- paise waloh (For me this is a battle. It's an election for them -- the rich folk)."


Photographs: Press Information Bureau

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