President Ram Nath Kovind along with three Services’ Chiefs pays homage to the martyrs at National War Memorial. Image used for representational purpose only. 

Veterans Split Over ‘Politicisation of Armed Forces’ Letter

A letter, seemingly written by military veterans to the President of India, raising concerns about the politicisation of the Armed Forces by some elected leaders has landed in controversy. The Rashtrapati Bhavan, on Friday, 12 April, denied having received any such letter.

The letter has the names of over 150 armed forces veterans, including eight former chiefs of staff, to President and Commander-in-Chief Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday was sent on 11 April.

In a twist, some of the veterans mentioned as undersigned in the letter on Friday denied being part of the appeal to the President, saying that they are not aware of the letter. Meanwhile, some others confirmed they had in fact given their consent to the letter and had signed it.

Gen SF Rodrigues (retd), the first on the list of names and a former Chief of Army Staff denied having signed the letter, saying “I don’t know what it (the letter) is all about. All my life, we've been apolitical. After 42 years as officer, it's a little late to change. I always put India first. I don’t know who these people are, it is a classic manifestation of fake news,” he told ANI.

We in the services have always done what the government in power ordered us, we are an instrument of the state. We are apolitical. Anyone can say anything and then sell it as fake news, I don’t know who this gentleman is who wrote this.
Gen SF Rodrigues (retd.) to ANI

Former Air Chief Marshal Nirmal Chandra Suri told ANI that the letter had been written by a Major Chaudhury. “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,” he claimed.

He added that they had been misquoted and said his consent had not been taken for the letter.

“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.”
Air Chief Marshal Nirmal Chandra Suri to ANI

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also reacted to the controversy, calling the letter fake.

"They have not given their consent to the petition that went to the Rashtrapati. It is very worrying that if people's consent are not even being taken and fake letters and fake allegations are being signed by some vested interest groups, it is absolutely condemnable,” she said.

She added that not taking the consent of people was objectionable.

“I really would like to say that at the time of elections, fake complaints not be given. You are welcome to give your genuine complaints, but without taking the permission of people who are eminent citizens, eminent officers, you just include their names in the petition? It’s objectionable.”
Nirmala Sitharaman to media

Union minister Prakash Javadekar, on Friday, termed the letter a "disgusting act by the Grand Alliance," saying it reflected disappointment and nervousness of the Opposition, reported PTI.

‘Had Given My Consent Only After Knowing the Contents’: Major

However, Major General Harsha Kakar, also on the list of armed forces veterans mentioned in the letter, confirmed that he had given his consent for the letter. “Yes, I had given my consent for being a signatory to the letter. I had given my consent only after knowing the contents of it,” he told ANI.

“This letter has my support too. It also has my name, endorsed by me. Every political party is asking for votes using armed forces, by taking their names – be it Yogi, Urmila, Kejriwal, Kumaraswamy or Farooq Abdullah. Their comments are only for votes,” Major Kakar added.

He further stressed that the armed forces of the country are apolitical and do not belong to a government or an individual but to the nation.

Meanwhile, when asked about the contents of the letter and whether the “politicisation of the Army” was unprecedented, Air Vice Marshall Kapil Kak, told The Quint:

“Yes, it has happened before (but) in an isolated manner. (But this is) Unprecedented because there are actions after actions, not just one. And these are at the topmost level. Here you have a CM of a state coming in, you have the PM making statements... So this has not happened before and all that we are talking about is ruling party. We have said ruling party. We have not made any bones... (But)we have nothing to do with both Congress and BJP ”
Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak to The Quint

Kak also lamented how the various institutions that "stood their ground like a hard rock since Independence" are being "destroyed brick by brick", citing the cases of the CBI and the Election Commission.

Kak is mentioned as a signatory in the letter as 43rd on the list.

Former Army Vice Chief Lt General ML Naidu, who is also mentioned in the list of armed forces veterans said that the Armed Forces have to stand with the Constitution.

“If the Army become political, it will hurt the nation. This is why the letter has been sent to the President. The letter has been sent with everyone’s consent. Whoever gave their consent, their names are in the letter,” he said.

He added that those who had denied being part of the letter may have forgotten what the contents of the letter were.

General Shankar Roy Chowdhury told NDTV that the letter had been written to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

“This letter is not to the defence forces. This letter is to the political head of the country, our commander-in-chief and to all the political parties.”
Gen Shankar Roy Chowdhury to NDTV

We Have Proof: Major Chowdhury Responds

Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury (Retd), who was mentioned by Former Air Chief Marshal NC Suri earlier, has also reacted to the controversy.

Major Chowdhury wrote on Twitter, addressing both the question of Rashtrapati Bhawan not receiving the letter as well as some veterans stating that their consent had not been taken.

With regard to the President not having received the letter, he uploaded a screenshot of an email, sent on 11 April, 12.26 am, to what appeared to be an email address for the President of India — presidentofindia — as well as a number of others.

Veterans Split Over ‘Politicisation of Armed Forces’ Letter

In another tweet, he responded to those denying being aware of the letter and claiming that their consent had not been taken before adding their names to the petition. “Gen Rodrigues & ACM Suri denying that they endorsed the letter to The President. Suffice to say, we have proof of their endorsements,” he wrote on Twitter.

In another tweet, he provided screenshots of a mail from Admiral Ramdas, which Chowdhury claimed provided proof of the endorsement of Suri and Rodrigues, allowing the addition of their signatures to the letter.

(Photo: <a href="https://twitter.com/MajChowdhury">Twitter</a>)
Veterans Split Over ‘Politicisation of Armed Forces’ Letter
Veterans Split Over ‘Politicisation of Armed Forces’ Letter
Veterans Split Over ‘Politicisation of Armed Forces’ Letter

Major Chowdhury also responded to Sitharaman’s comments on the matter, saying that he was “ashamed to hear Nirmala Sitharaman lying in in public about veterans”.

Use of ‘Modi Ji Ki Sena’ Unacceptable: Army Veterans

Over 150 ex-servicemen had written the letter to President Ram Nath Kovind on 11 April, the first day of the elections.

Speaking of the politicisation, Army veterans said that “some concerns have caused considerable alarm and disquiet among both the serving and the retired personnel of our forces.”

“We, refer, Sir 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’,” the letter reads.

The letter urges the President to take “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 to further their political agendas.”

Referring to the recent use of term “Modi ji ki sena” by Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to describe the Indian Army, the veterans have said that such a usage is completely unacceptable.

The veterans also objected to use of Indian Air Forces’ Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman in posters, along with soldiers in election platforms and campaigns.

Pointing out that political parties have displayed utmost disregard for the Model Code of Conduct, the letter by Army veterans states that such incidents might increase.

The group of veterans have specified that those in active service 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.

(With inputs from ANI and NDTV.)