Hyderabad: A letter written by many senior retired defence officers, including eight chiefs, to the President Ram Nath Kovind, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, complaining against political parties politicising the military, has created a flutter. The letter primarily conveyed concern over the growing misuse of the forces in electioneering.
The letter bears the signatures of 156 veterans, including three Army chiefs, four Admirals and an Air Chief Marshal, all retired. However, at least three of them said their consent was not taken: former Army chief General S.F. Rodrigues (retd), and Air Chief Marshal N.C. Suri (retd) and former Army vice-chief Lt. Gen. M.L. Naidu (retd).
Major Priyadarshi Chaudhary (retired), who drafted the letter, told this newspaper that the consent of all the signatories was taken a week ago. He has displayed proof on his social media handle.
The letter said: “We refer to the unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit of military operations like cross-border strikes and even going so far as to claim the Armed Forces to be ‘Modi ji ki Sena’. Party workers are also seen wearing the military uniform and posting images with pictures of soldiers and especially of Wg Cmdr Abninandan Varthaman.”
“With the elections around the corner and 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 such incidents may only increase as polling day draws nears,” the letter said.
Explaining how the letter came to be drafted and sent to the President, Maj. Chaudhary (retd) told Deccan Chronicle: “We (a group of veterans) saw increasing misuse of the forces by the leaders after the surgical strikes of 2016. We started feeling disquiet about the way the Armed Forces were being dragged into politics.”
Major Priyadarshi Chaudhary (retired) said that the resentment increased after the Pulwama terror attack. “While the bodies of our CRPF jawans had still not reached their homes, the BJP had put up posters stating, “Votes usko do jo surgical strikes karen (Vote for those who carry out surgical strikes). How much more insensitive can they be,” Maj. Chaudhary said.
“Then Balakot (the air strikes) happened. The BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party started using Wg Cmdr Varthaman’s posters in public rallies and asking for votes,” he said. “It became worse when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath referred to the Indian Army as Modi ji ki sena.” He said that was when former Navy chief Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas (retd) wrote to the Election Commission complaining about the sequence of events and the poll panel issued a caution.
“Then the PM once again dragged the forces into the electioneering. We had no choice but to use the institutional grievance mechanism, for us it is the Supreme Commander. The serving personnel cannot protest as their right to speech is abrogated. Therefore we used the right mechanism,” Maj. Chaudhury (retd) said.
Asked about the three former chiefs who denied giving consent, Maj Chaudhary (retd), said, “We drafted the letter a week ago and circulated it in our groups and those who agreed (gave consent), their names were added to the list and it was sent to the President. I have submitted the proof of their concurrence”.
The internal chat put out by Maj. Chaudhary (retd) purports to show Gen. Rod-rigues (retd) saying on April 4: “I endorse the appeal to the Supreme Commander.”
Air Chief Marshal Suri (retd) said, according to the purported chat, “I am of the firm view that the armed forces must continue to be apolitical and oriented to serve the country through the democratically elected government.” It is in this context that I endorse the appeal to the Supreme Commander.”
Messages showing resentment against politicial parties have been in circulation for a while among groups of veterans who have held high-ranking posts. Sources said the intent to submit a letter to the President was also in circulation for a week. “I recei-ved the letter on Whatsapp but I didn’t give my consent. Only those who agreed were added,” said a retired IAF officer based in Hyderabad.
Many former defence chief have confirmed endorsing the letter, former Army chiefs Gen. Deepak Kapoor and Gen Shankar Roy Chowdhury. Former Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta told a news website that he had signed the letter....