The military veterans have referred 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 ‘Modi ji ki Sena’.
Shared News: Updated: April 12, 2019 3:07:45 pm
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
In an unprecedented move, more than 150 retired military officers, including eight former chiefs of the army, navy and air force, have written to the President urging him “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”.
However, ANI quoted General SF Rodrigues as saying that he was not aware of any such letter sent to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. “Don’t know what it (letter) is all about. All my life, we’ve been apolitical. After 42 years as an officer, it’s a little late to change. We always put India first. Don’t know who these people are. It is a classic manifestation of fake news,” Rodrigues told the news agency.
Speaking on similar lines, former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal (retired) NC Suri also claimed he was misquoted. “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,” he said.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters that it was worrying that “fake letters” are being signed by “vested groups”.
“Two senior officers said they have not given consent,worrying that fake letters being signed by vested groups. Condemnable. Rashtrapati Bhawan has also said that they have not received the letter,” she was quoted as saying by ANI.
The open letter, which has been copied to the Chief Election Commissioner, asks the President “to ensure that the secular and apolitical character of our Armed Forces is preserved”. It states that notifications issued by the Election Commission to UP CM Adityanath on the matter “do not appear to have resulted in any substantive change of behaviour and practice on the ground”.
The military veterans have referred 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 ‘Modi ji ki Sena’. 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 Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, displayed”.
They said that “given the prevailing environment where political parties and candidates seem to be acting in total disregard of the declaration of the ‘model code of conduct’, we fear that such incidents may only increase as polling day draws near.”
Among the eight service chiefs who have “signed” the letter are three former Army chiefs, Generals SF Rodrigues, Shankar Roy Chowdhury and Deepak Kapoor; four Navy chiefs, Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas, Vishnu Bhagwat, Arun Prakash and Sureesh Mehta; and one former air force chief, Air Chief Marshal NC Suri.
Admiral L Ramdas had earlier complained to the Chief Election Commissioner about the misuse of the name of the armed forces by the ruling party. Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat was controversially sacked by the previous NDA government in 1998, which was the first instance of a military chief being sacked in independent India.
General Rodrigues, who was the Army chief from 1990 to 1993, was the governor of Punjab from 2004 to 2010 while General Roy Chowdhury served as an independent member of Rajya Sabha from West Bengal from 1999 to 2005.
Even earlier, the misuse of armed forces for electoral purposes was flagged by the then Army Chief, General VP Malik in the aftermath of the 1999 Kargil War when the NDA government under Vajpayee was seeking re-election. In his book, ‘Kargil: From Surprise to Victory’, General Malik revealed that he complained to Vajpayee about BJP election posters that featured the three military chiefs. Vajpayee ensured that it did not happen again.
Giving other instances of Army being dragged in for electoral purposes during that period, General Malik further noted that “the armed forces were anguished because they were getting sucked into electoral politics as a result of the blatant effort to politicise the war for immediate electoral advantage. At one stage, in desperation, I had to send across a strong message through the media: ‘Leave us alone; we are apolitical’.”
In their letter released late night on Thursday, military veterans also said that “those in active service (men and women of all ranks in the Army, Navy and Air Force) cannot speak out, even on matters which might affect their interests adversely, since they are subject to military law and are governed by the parliamentary Acts of their respective Service”, and “it is for this reason that we write to bring to your attention… some concerns which have caused considerable alarm and disquiet among both the serving and the retired personnel of our Forces.”
Military veterans have been seen as a proxy for the serving military personnel, speaking on their behalf on many issues in the past few years. Prior to 2014 elections, they were at the forefront of a campaign for ‘One Rank, One Pension’ and supported Narendra Modi as a PM candidate. Former Army Chief, General VK Singh joined the BJP, won the Lok Sabha election from Ghaziabad and became a minister of state in the union government in 2014. He is again contesting the election from Ghaziabad.