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Veterans urge Prez to stop politicisation of forces

Last updated on: April 12, 2019 23:31 IST

Over 150 military veterans have written to President Ram Nath Kovind, expressing outrage over what they called 'use' of the armed forces for 'political purposes' and sought his intervention in preserving apolitical character of the services.

The letter, dated April 11, carries the names of eight former service chiefs but two of them -- former Army chief General (retd) S F Rodrigues and Air Chief Marshal (retd) N C Suri -- said they have not signed it. However, they said that the military should not be politicised.

Former Army vice chief Lt Gen M L Naidu (retd) also said his consent was not taken before listing his name as one of the signatories.

When contacted, several veterans, including former Army chiefs Gen Deepak Kapoor (retd) and Gen Shankar Roy Chowdhury (retd), acknowledged writing the letter.

Gen Chowdhury said the letter was written expressing sentiments of the military veterans on an important issue.

 

The veterans said they chose to write to the President as he is the custodian of the Constitution as well as the supreme commander of the armed forces.

Referring to Rodrigues and Suri denying signing the letter, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman called the allegations 'fake'.

"It is absolutely condemnable that names were mentioned without taking permission," she said.

The letter cites several examples of the military being used for political purposes, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath referring to the armed forces as 'Modi ji ki Sena' and the display of images of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman at political events.

Varthaman was captured by Pakistan after an air combat with India and subsequently released. In their rallies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a number of BJP leaders have been referring to Indian Air Force's Balakot strikes besides mentioning the valour of the armed forces in defending the country.

Reacting to it, the Congress said that it was clear that the soldiers were with India and not with the BJP.

'Modi may try to use soldiers for votes, but it's clear that soldiers stand with India and not the BJP. 156 Veterans of the Indian Armed Forces including 8 former Chiefs of Staff write to the President of India urging him to act against Modi for trying to use soldiers for votes,' said a tweet from the Congress' official Twitter handle.

The Election Commission has already taken note of the PM's comments asking first-time voters to dedicate their votes to those who carried out the air strike in Balakot.

"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 veterans wrote.

"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 specially of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, displayed," according to the letter by the veterans.

They said such misuse of the armed forces would impinge adversely on the morale and fighting efficiency of the serving men and women in the uniform.

"It could, therefore, directly affect national security and national integrity. We, therefore, appeal to you to ensure that the secular and apolitical character of our armed forces is preserved," the letter says.

The veterans urged the President to take all necessary steps and urgently direct all political parties to 'desist from using the military for political purposes or to further their political agendas'.

The letter also lists former Navy chiefs Admiral L Ramdas (retired), Admiral Arun Prakash (retired) and Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat (retired) as signatories.

It mentions the Election Commission's notice to those violating the model code of conduct, including to Adiyanath, but adds that the actions don't have any impact on the ground.

"Indeed a notification has been issued asking for an explanation for those responsible for these statements including from the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh," the letter says.

"However, we regret to state that these do not appear to have resulted in any substantive change of behaviour or practice on the ground," it adds.

In his reaction, Air Chief Marshal (retired) Suri said armed forces are apolitical and they report to the democratically elected government.

He said that his consent was not taken before his name was mentioned in the letter. 

 

Full text of the letter

Dear Shri Ram Nath Kovind Ji,

We, the signatories, are Armed Forces Veterans who have served in the defence of our nation in various appointments, in peacetime and in operational and war zones over the past several decades.

The apolitical and secular nature of Indias Armed Forces has been an article of faith for every soldier, sailor and airman. Indias Armed Forces have loyally upheld the democratic principle of civil control over the military. Their military professionalism on and off the field, combined with the devotion to duty in protecting Indias territorial sovereignty and national integrity, remains widely appreciated.

The soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Armed Forces owe allegiance to the Constitution of India, of which you, as President of the Indian Union, are the legal custodian.

It is for this reason that the President is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and we serve and execute orders at the will of the President and as decided from time to time by the Executive that is, the Government of the day.

You would be aware 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.

However, we Veterans being in continuous touch with our own military fraternity, as also with serving personnel at all levels, have a finger on the pulse, so to speak. And it is for this reason that we write to bring to your attention, as the Supreme Commander of Indias Armed Forces, some concerns which 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. 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.

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 General Elections round 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 that such incidents may only increase as polling day draws near.

We believe that you 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.

We hereby respectfully urge you 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.

This communication is copied to the Chief Election Commissioner of the Election Commission of India for information and action.

We, the undersigned, endorse the above.

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