On April 11, more than 150 armed forces veterans – including three former Army chiefs, four former Navy chiefs and a former Air Force chief – wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind, who is also the Supreme Commander of armed forces of India, complaining about the way political parties have been continuously using armed forces for political gains ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections.
The letter requests 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.”
“We hearby 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,” the 156 veterans said in the letter dated April 11.
April 11 was the first phase of the general election and the final phase falls on May 19. Counting of votes will take place on May 23.
The veterans referred to the “unusual and totally unacceptable practice” of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes and even being called “Modi ki sena” referring to recent comments by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The veterans also referred to photographs of the election campaign 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 expressed concern that the EC directive did not appear to have “resulted in any substantive change of behaviour and practice on the ground.”
They also say in the letter that political parties are disregarding the model code of conduct and expressed apprehensions that “such incidents may only increase as polling day draws near”.
They stated that such ‘misuse’ of the armed forces “would impinge adversely on the morale and fighting efficiency of the serving man and woman in uniform.”
“We therefore appeal to you to ensure the secular and apolitical character of our armed forces is preserved,” they said.
The 156 signatories include eight former service chiefs — General Sunith Francis Rodrigues, Shankar Roy Chowdhury Deepak Kapoor, Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas, Vishnu Bhagwat, Arun Prakash, Suresh Mehta and Air Chief Marshal NC Suri.
However, as per media reports, some veterans, among them Air Chief Marshal NC Suri and former Indian Army chief General SF Rodrigues, denied endorsing any such letter. Some said that the letter is fake. Initially, at least, Rashtrapati Bhavan also denied having received the letter that was e-mailed to the President.
One of the former army chiefs General SF Rodrigues, whose name figured in the letter, was reported by news agency ANI as saying: “Don’t know what it (purported letter written by armed forces veterans to Pres) is all about. All my life, we’ve been apolitical.Aftr,42 yrs as officer, it’s a little late to change. Always put India first. Don’t know who these ppl are, classic manifestation of fake news.”
Air Chief Marshal Suri told ANI the letter 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. My consent has not been taken for any such letter. And I do not agree with whatever has been written in that letter.”
About Rashtrapati Bhavan, ANI reported: “Rashtrapati Bhavan Source denies receiving any letter supposedly written by armed forces veterans to the President which is circulating in the media.”
Later, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the press she found the letter “condemnable” and dismissed it as “fake” propaganda issued by “vested interests”.
However, on Saturday, Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury, a retired infantryman of the Sikh Regiment and the officer who sent the letter, countered these statements. Meanwhile, veteran Major General Sudhir Vombatkere also responded to the controversy with a letter of his own, in which he noted having “meticulously recorded the email responses” the veterans sent.
Noting that “the letter to the President was also termed “fake news” by a senior minister of the central government”, Maj Gen Vombatkere said, “The writer had meticulously recorded the email responses of Veterans who had endorsed the letter to the President, in the time-sequence of their receipt, and the responses of all three senior Veterans who had denied having endorsed the letter are on record. Some of these are already in the public domain.
As regards the regrettable comment of this letter being “fake news”, it is necessary to state that the letter is neither news nor is it fake. The letter is an appeal to the President of India to uphold the a-political character of the Armed Forces, of which he is the supreme commander.”
Before this, Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (retd.), whose name features in the list, told The Hindu: “The letter was sent by email and endorsement was also given over email.”
He said he fully endorsed the contents of the letter. “I am surprised that Rashtrapati Bhawan is not aware of the letter,” he added.
Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury, a retired infantryman of the Sikh Regiment and the officer who sent the letter from “a group of senior veterans” to President Ram Nath Kovind protesting the “use of the armed forces for political purposes”, countered statements made by two senior servicemen who denied signing the document.
Major Chowdhury, the national coordinator of the joint jawans and kisan movement, tweeted screenshots of these emails on 12 April. He also responded to a statement issued by the president’s office denying receiving such a letter. Major Chowdhury, in his tweet, included a screenshot of his email to the president’s office.
"In an unprecedented election-eve letter of the kind India has never seen before in the 07 decades since independence, over 150 armed forces veterans have written to the President & C in C..."— ପ୍ରିୟଦର୍ଶୀ/प्रियदर्शी/Priyadarshi (@MajChowdhury) April 11, 2019
We promise to defend our integrity and that of India.https://t.co/QqJwgracFb
This email was sent to three mailboxes in Rashtrapati Bhavan. An official at the president’s home told news portal Firstpost he could confirm two of these IDs existed, but not that the veterans’ letter reached them.
Major Chowdhury told Firstpost he was in no doubt the message contained in the letter represented the sentiments of the veterans who he said endorsed it. “I don’t wish to speculate on the reasons why two of my senior officers have issued denials or what pressured them to do so,” he added.
Many responded in support of Major Chowdhury’s tweet. One took a dig at Defence Minister Sitharaman: “When the soldiers did not mention any party how is Nirmala so sure that they referred their concern on the BJP’s conduct”
More officers came out to extend support the letter.
Following the publication of the report, the Congress reacted to the veterans’ letter by saying that it was clear that the soldiers were with India.
“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.
Full text of Maj Gen SG Vombatkere’s letter:
Veterans’ concerns for a secular military Neither news nor fake!
By Maj Gen SG Vombatkere**
A group of over 150 Indian military Veterans wrote a letter to the President of India in his capacity as Supreme Commander of India Armed Forces, expressing their serious concern at the recent rather blatant use by politicians of different parties, of the military, military uniforms or symbols, and actions by military formations or personnel, in the election campaigns.
The Veterans’ concern was that such misuse may affect the secular character of the armed forces which, as is well known, is Government of India’s instrument of last resort for both internal and external security. India’s armed forces have been effective in the service of the nation largely because of its a-political character and its control under the civil authority. Thus, politicization of the armed forces could reflect adversely on national security.
However, two former service chiefs and a former vice-chief of army staff, informed the media that they had not endorsed the letter and their permission to add their names as signatories had not been taken. The letter to the President was also termed “fake news” by a senior minister of the central government.
The writer had meticulously recorded the email responses of Veterans who had endorsed the letter to the President, in the time-sequence of their receipt, and the responses of all three senior Veterans who had denied having endorsed the letter are on record. Some of these are already in the public domain.
As regards the regrettable comment of this letter being “fake news”, it is necessary to state that the letter is neither news nor is it fake. The letter is an appeal to the President of India to uphold the a-political character of the Armed Forces, of which he is the supreme commander.
Those who have denied having endorsed it possibly had second thoughts after having endorsed it like any good soldier would have done. Speaking of good soldiers and politics, it is apt to quote the advice of Field Marshal Philip Chetwode to the first batch of Indian cadets, when he inaugurated the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun in 1932. He spoke thus: “The young Indian man of education seems very attracted by politics. May I urge you to remember that politics do and cannot find any place in army life. An army can have no place in politics. It is the paid servant of the people and is at the disposal of the Government of the day, whatever may be the political complexion of that Government. Once there is any suspicion that an Army, or any part of it, is biased politically, from that moment that Army has lost the confidence of the nation that pays for it. It is no longer impartial, and that way lies chaos and civil war.”
Nothwithstanding the controversy created by three very senior Veterans denying that they endorsed the letter to the President, the fact is that the content of the letter remains the view of the veterans who endorsed it. Indeed, there are other Veterans who have called in asking why they were not given opportunity to endorse the letter. This writer invites them to send in their endorsements to the letter and its contents, since opinion on such a matter is not time-bound.
Full text of the letter from armed forces veterans:
FROM A GROUP OF VETERANS TO OUR SUPREME COMMANDER
April 11, 2019
Honourable Shri Ram Nath Kovind
President of India and Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces
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 India’s Armed Forces has been an article of faith for every soldier, sailor and airman. India’s 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 India’s 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 India’s 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.
1 Gen SF Rodrigues, PVSM,VSM
2 Gen Shankar Roy Chowdhury, PVSM,ADC
3 Gen Deepak Kapoor, PVSM, AVSM,SM,VSM,ADC
4 Adm Laxminarayan Ramdas, PVSM,AVSM,VrC, VSM,ADC
5 Adm Vishnu Bhagwat,PVSM,AVSM
6 Adm Arun Prakash, PVSM,AVSM,VrC,VSM,ADC
7 Adm Sureesh Mehta, PVSM,AVSM
8 Air Chief Marshal NC Suri,PVSM,AVSM,VM,ADC
9 Lt Gen Sanjeev Anand
10 Lt General KS Rao, PVSM, SC, SM, Arjuna Awardee
11 Lt General Mohan Ramdas
12 Lt General YN Sharma
13 Lt General Vinay Shankar
14 Lt General Prakash Gokarn
15 Lt General Vijay Oberoi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM
16 Lt General MA Gurbaxani, PVSM, AVSM
17 Lt General RK Nanavatty, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM
18 Lt General R K Gaur, PVSM
19 Lt General CA Barretto, PVSM
20 Lt General ML Naidu, PVSM, AVSM, YSM
21 Vice Admiral Madanjit Singh
22 Vice Admiral DB Kapila, PVSM, AVSM, VSM
23 Vice Admiral A Britto, PVSM, AVSM, VSM
24 Air Marshal Vir Narain, PVSM
25 Maj Gen A K Shukla
26 Maj Gen PC Panjikar, VSM
27 Maj General KM Bhimaya
28 Maj General Jose Manavalan, AVSM
29 Maj General Shiv Dev Singh
30 Maj General Mohan Singh
31 Maj General Harsha Kakar
32 Maj General Rajendra Prakash, VSM
33 Maj General GH Israni
34 Maj General Anil Sawhny, AVSM
35 Maj General IJS Dhillon
36 Maj General Kshitin Pandya, AVSM
37 Maj General TK Kaul, PVSM, AVSM, VSM
38 Maj General ML Malik
39 Maj General SG Pitre
40 Maj General SG Vombatkere, VSM
41 Rear Admiral Shankar Mathur
42 Rear Admiral Sudhir Pillai, NM
43 Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak
44 Brig A. A Ramchandani
45 Brig UPS Pathania
46 Brig Vinod Raizada
47 Brigadier VHM Prasad
48 Commodore C Jayaraj
49 Commodore Rajan Mathew, VSM
50 Commodore R Rahmathullah
51 Commodore G Kailath, AVSM, NM, VSM
52 Commodore Dinabandhu Jena
53 Commodore Jal Postwalla
54 Commodore PC Gulati, NM
55 Commodore MS Chahal
56 Air Cmde Sanjay Sharma’
57 Colonel Bharat Haladi
58 Col Sanjeev Choudhary
59 Col Krishna Prasad N G
60 Col Mukesh Trehan
61 Col RP Suhag
62 Col Pankaj Fotedar, VSM
63 Col Vivek Mathur
64 Col Arun Hariharan
65 Col K N Singh
66 Col DM Sharma
67 Col Shantanu Majumdar,
68 Col Gurpinder Singh
69 Col Ramnik Khanna
70 Col Abhay Prasad
71 Col Abhi Chatterjee,
72 Col Manmohan Singh
73 Col. Rajiv Kanwar
74 Col Bharat Kumar
75 Col Jayadev P I
76 Col. Sujit Dutta
77 Col. Lal Kesavan
78 Col. Melwyn D’Souza
79 Col Sanjay Dilwaria
80 Col. K S Kamboj
81 Col Shashi Thoomas Kilo
82 Col K Kataria, SM
83 Col MK Keshwar
84 Col Maniish D Kachhy
85 Col. Aparjeet Nakai
86 Col CMS Babu
87 Col RS Singh
88 Capt (IN) HPS Sodhi
89 Capt (IN) Rakesh Kumar Prabhakar
90 Captain (IN) S Prabhala, VSM
91 Capt(IN) Sandeep Kapoor
92 Group Captain Ashutosh Srivastav (Retd)
93 Gp Capt Rajinder Abrol
94 Gp Capt D. V. Shukla,
95 Gp Capt Philips Jacob, VM
96 Gp Capt Satvinder Singh
97 Gp Capt Deepak Mundade
98 Gp Capt MS Sadanand
99 Lt col Arvind Kumar Singh,
100 Lt Col MS Kanwal, VSM
101 Lt Col Sajan Moideen,
102 Lt Col Muruganantham
103 Lt Col Ved Prakash Sharma
104 Lt Col R Pankaj
105 Lt Col Shantanu Rishi
106 Lt Col Sanjeev Kumar Gupta
107 Lt Col SPS Panwar
108 Lt Col Neeraj Sharma
109 Lt Col Shantnu Rishi
110 Lt. Col. Gagan Khanna, DE
111 Lt Col Satish Chari
112 Lt. Col Akash Sachan
113 Lt. Col PP Singh
114 Lt Col Sandeep Chandorkar
115 Lt. Col. SS Nath
116 Lt Col JS Patil
117 Lt Col Amit P Mathur
118 Lt Col Jagjit Singh Judge
119 Lt Col RP Shankar
120 Lt Col NM Saksena
121 Lt Col Raghawendra Singh
122 Lt Col Shamsher Manhas
123 Lt Col DN Yadav
124 Lt Col Janak Raj Vatsa
125 Lt Col Rakesh Mehrotra
126 Lt Col Rajeev Rattan Kotwal
127 Cdr MCV Jose
128 Cdr KC Mahesh Giri
129 Cdr Sam T Samuel
130 Cdr Joji Tom Mundakel
131 Cdr S Manrai
132 Cdr P Pattanath
133 Cdr HS Dabas
134 Cdr Soumya Datta
135 Cdr SA Rawool
136 Cdr Sandeep Kumar
137 Cdr RK Srivastava
138 Cdr Shailesh Jain
139 Cdr Sati Taneja
140 Wg Cdr Gopal Taneja
141 Wg Cdr Sanjay Bishnoi
142 Wg Cdr Nilesh Gandhi
143 Wg Cdr Rajiv Gupta
144 Wg Cdr Sudhir Kumar Virulkar
145 Wg Cdr SK Chopra
146 Wg Cdr Sanjay Nijai
147 Wg Cdr Kuldeep Mathur
148 Wg Cdr SK Nair
149 Wg Cdr Prashant Karde
150 Maj K J Singh
151 Maj P Sirur
152 Maj Priyadarshi Chowdhury, SC
153 Sqn Ldr Narendra Prasad Uniyal
154 Capt Sandeep Shekhawat
155 S/ Lt. (IN) RC Jain
156 Lt HS Ahlawat