In an unprecedented move, over 150 veterans of India’s armed forces wrote to the President on the eve of the first phase of the Lok Sabha election urging him to stop parties from politicising the military and its symbols.
The letter, which was almost marked to the Chief Election Commission, was signed by three former Army chiefs (General Sunith Francis Rodrigues, General Shankar Roychowdhury, General Deepak Kapoor), four former Navy chiefs (Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, Admiral Arun Prakash, Admiral Suresh Mehta) and former Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal NC Suri.
In the letter, the veterans call out the “unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes.”
They refer to UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s speech in which he called the armed forces “Modi ji ki Sena” and say that the Election Commission’s order “do not appear to have resulted in any substantive change of behaviour and practice on the ground.”
The letter reprimands party workers “seen wearing military uniforms” and the display of “posters and images with pictures of soldiers and especially of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman”.
The veterans say political parties and candidates seem to be acting in total disregard of model code of conduct in place during elections. “We fear that such incidents may only increase as polling day draws near,” the letter says.
They urge President Ram Nath Kovind to take steps to “urgently direct all political parties” to stop using “the military, military uniforms or symbols, and any actions by military formations or personnel” for political purposes or agendas.
You can read their full letter below:
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.