KOLKATA, West Bengal —The Election Commission of India has absolved Narendra Modi of using the Armed Forces in campaign speeches to gain votes for his party. The commission was ruling on a complaint lodged by Congress that the Prime Minister had mentioned the Balakot airstrike to canvas for votes in Latur, Maharashtra.
Colonel (Retd) Diptanshu Choudhury, who served in the 8 Mountain Division during the Kargil War, and is now a Trinamool Congress member accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of trying to destroy ‘the fabric of institutions’.
“They have even ensured that the constitutional body ECI is also seen with doubt and suspicion because of the way they acted and reacted directly or indirectly on dictums of the Modi-Shah duo,” he told HuffPost India. Apart from being a political observer for Trinamool Congress, Choudhary also oversees the work of its social media cell.
After 24 years of service, Chaudhury took premature retirement from the forces. Within a few months of him retiring in 2016, he said he got a call from Amit Shah’s office asking him to join the party.
“I used to think BJP is a nationalistic party. But slowly I understood it was a facade,” Choudhury said, adding that he was given a BJP ticket to contest from Asansol during the 2016 state elections immediately after joining the party. He left the BJP for the TMC in 2017.
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Excerpts from an interview where Choudhary explained why he felt the Modi government’s adulation for the army — as is evident from the Prime Minister’s election speeches — was far from genuine.
I served in the army for 24 years. When the Kargil War started, I was a part of the HQ 8 Mountain Division. We fought the war and I was there till the first snow of the year.
You have fought a war under another BJP-led government. How different was the government machinery compared to Modi’s?
As the head of the democratically elected government, Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the decision to go for a war and we went for it. It was the Army which fought the war and Vajpayee was aware of who should get the real credit. When the Indian Flag was being raised at 14,000 feet on the Tiger Hill, Vajpayee didn’t go to press taking credit for winning the war himself. He credited the Army.
What difference do you see in the ways Modi and Vajpayee treated a military victory?
Atal ji and George Fernandes had come to visit the troops in Matayan, near Dras I remember. They interacted with the soldiers to boost their morale. However, when the war was won, they did not beat their own drums about it. There are soldiers climbing 18,000 feet in cold and ice, Vajpayee knew better than taking credit for it.
I do not remember even the party, back then using the Army victory as obsessively to get votes like Modi and Amit Shah is.
As the head of the government which ordered these military action, doesn’t he deserve to take credit?
The armed forces are not the government’s, or the party’s. They belong to the country. You cannot claim that they are the Prime Minister’s or some such thing. Adityanath saying things like ‘Modi ji ki sena’ therefore is an insult to the country.
The Modi government has subjected the Army to the worst kind of degradation. They made the Army build bridges and other things for an event held by Sri Sri Ravishankar. The country’s army’s job is not to build things for people’s events.
I read that the Army was also deployed to clean the site following the mess the event left.
Then, when the Army undertook an expedition to Mount Everest in 2015, they were asked to also clean waste from the mountains. And that was linked to to Prime Minister’s Swacch Bharat scheme. This is against the ethics of the Indian Army.
The way the government has treated veterans is also reprehensible. Here the Prime Minister is asking for votes in exchange of the Army’s operations, where was he when veterans were sitting in dharna for days at Jantar Mantar for OROP? [One Rank One Pension] Then also OROP was shoddily done and again, they had to protest.
The government refused to grant non-functional upgradation (NFU) to armed forces. Why shouldn’t armed forces get the upgrade if civil servants can? Where is the PM’s love for the army then? [NFU is a provision under which government servants like civil services officers get a rank and pay upgrade if they have served 19 years at a stretch, they also get various other amenities].
And if all these things weren’t enough, the RSS threatened to send their ‘sena’ to fight at the borders. How can one tolerate such an insult to the armed forces and their hard work?
The Army is not running for elections. So how can they ask people to vote for the Army?
Mamata Banerjee has been criticised for raising questions about the Balakote air strike. Do you think it was the right line of questioning?
First of all, the chief minister was misrepresented in the media. She did not criticise the Army at all, ever. What she questioned was how BJP, within 24 hours of the airstrike, start giving numbers of people who were killed. It is impossible to get any numbers that soon. It requires surveillance or site visits. Even the Air Force themselves did not give an exact figure and not at least before 15-20 days.
The BJP is just using the Army and the Pulwama attacks to play communal politics and create an anti-minorities sentiment. They are playing politics on the dead bodies of our martyrs. Bengal has also lost their sons, but we aren’t playing politics over them.
The Pulwama attacks are an important part of the present political discourse.
Modi and Shah is going around asking for votes citing the Pulwama attack and their action against it. But how did the attack happen in the first place? It is, first and foremost a terrible intelligence failure. The government is trying to cover that up.
All those explosives were made or brought into Kashmir and then used for the attack, and it all happened under the government’s nose. They failed to stop that, and even then, they are going around asking for votes for the martyrs.
The UPA regime was terrible, but in Modi’s 5-year-rule, we have witnessed so many terrorist strikes.
There has been accusations of widespread violence in West Bengal during the polls.
The Election Commission has sent the Central forces to the state to oversee all this. The forces are under the home ministry. There are Central Forces in almost every booth. The EC has also sent various special observers and police observers.
But the BJP has been desperately trying to foment trouble. Do you remember so many national and state BJP leaders coming to Bengal this frequently in the past? Modi and Shah is here to create trouble and preach their regressive philosophy every other day. They even got Adityanath to campaigning. Why are they coming here this frequently if not to create trouble?
Why did you leave the BJP?
I was made the head of the intellectual cell in BJP. I soon realised that there is no intellectual in BJP. I also realised that they only want to create a communal divide in West Bengal, they claim to be nationalistic but they have another agenda. Also, I couldn’t accept the state leadership and their politics. The biggest example is the IT cell. The BJP IT cell is a fake cell. They just want to divide the country on the basis of religion.