A controversy erupted over a letter written by a number of veterans to President Ram Nath Kovind alleging the use of the armed forces for political purposes, even as some of them said they had not given any consent for such a move. The letter, which carried the names of over 150 veterans, drew attention to "the unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes, and even going so far as to claim the Armed Forces to be 'Modiji ki Sena'."
The veterans have also objected to the use of pictures of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman — who was captured by Pakistan and then released — in posters, along with the image of soldiers, in election hoardings and campaign.
In a letter dated April 11, the veterans urged the President to take “all necessary steps to urgently direct all political parties that they must forthwith desist from using the military, military uniforms or symbols, and any actions by military formations or personnel, for political purposes or to further their political agendas”.
Air Chief Marshal N.C. Suri and General S.F. Rodrigues said they were not among the signatories.
The two former service chiefs are among top-ranking defence officers who have denied signing this letter written to the President against the “politicisation” of the armed forces in the ongoing elections.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that Suri and Rodrigues have said that they have not given their consent to this.
“It is very worrying that if people are writing fake letters and allegations are being levelled by vested groups. It is highly condemnable. It is happening at the time of elections,” Sitharaman said.
Former IAF chief Suri, one of the eight former chiefs of armed forces on the list of signatories, said he has contended that armed forces should remain apolitical, but said his consent wasn’t sought for the letter.
“This is not Admiral Ramdas’ letter and it has been done by some Major Chaudhary. He has written this and it was coming on WhatsApp and emails. To put an end to it, I wrote that armed forces are apolitical and support the politically elected government. And no, my consent has not been taken for any such letter. I don’t agree with whatever has been written in that letter. We have been misquoted,” Suri said.
Rodrigues denied signing the letter and called it fake news.
“I don’t know what it is all about. All my life, we’ve been apolitical. After 42 years as an officer, it’s a little late to change. We in the services have always done what the government in power ordered us, we are an instrument of the state. Anyone can say anything and then sell it as fake news, I don’t know who this gentleman is who wrote this,” Rodrigues said.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman called it a “fake letter” saying Air Chief Marshal N.C. Suri and Gen S.F. Rodrigues, who were listed among those signed, have both come out to say that their consent was not taken.
She said that it was worrying that fake petitions were being signed. The Minister said the President’s House had not even received the petition.
The petition had protested against the politicization of armed forces in the wake of comments like “Modiji ki Sena” made by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
It contained names of 156 officers but it was not clear on whose behest the campaign was initiated. Among those named were former Navy chief Arun Prakash who is active on social media and shares his views frequently on burning issues.
After the Balakot air strike, the opposition had accused the government of politicizing the armed forces and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election speech is under the Election Commission’s scanner for having referred to the military action.
In the petition dated April 11, the veterans urged the President to take “all necessary steps to urgently direct all political parties that they must forthwith desist from using the military, military uniforms or symbols, and any actions by military formations or personnel, for political purposes or to further their political agendas”.
They said that “some concerns have caused considerable alarm and disquiet among both the serving and the retired personnel of the forces”.
But some other veterans told media houses that they had given their consent to the letter.
The letter said: “The unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes, and even going so far as to claim the Armed Forces to be ‘Modiji ki Sena’.”
The letter quotes the names of Generals Rodrigues, Shankar Roy Chowdhury and Deepak Kapoor; Admirals Laxminarayan Ramdas, Vishnu Bhagwat, Arun Prakash and Sureesh Mehta; and Air Chief Marshal Suri.
“This is in addition to media pictures of election platforms and campaigns in which party workers are seen wearing military uniforms; and posters and images with pictures of soldiers and especially of Wing Commander Varthaman displayed,” the letter said.
In the letter, they said: “We do appreciate that complaints by some senior retired personnel, including a written submission from a former Chief of the Naval Staff to the Chief Election Commissioner, have elicited a prompt response.
“Indeed a notification has been issued asking for an explanation from those responsible for these statements, including from the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. However, we regret to state that these do not appear to have resulted in any substantive change of behaviour and practice on the ground.”
With the ongoing general elections, the veterans said they fear that such incidents may only increase as polling day draws near.
“We believe that you (President) will surely agree that any such misuse of the Armed Forces established under the Constitution of India and under the supreme command of the President of India would impinge adversely on the morale and fighting efficiency of the serving man or woman in uniform. It could therefore directly affect national security and national integrity.
“We, therefore, appeal to you to ensure that the secular and a-political character of our Armed Forces is preserved,” the veterans appealed to the President.
They have also sent a copy of the letter to the Chief Election Commissioner for necessary action. (IANS)