Veterans’ Letter Provokes Controversy, Two Deny Consent, Sitharaman Says Fake

New Delhi: An online petition to President Ram Nath Kovind by veterans protesting against politicization of armed forces has been marred in controversy as some whose names figure in the protest letter have distanced themselves from the campaign.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman called it a “fake letter” saying Air Chief Marshal N.C. Suri and Gen S.F. Rodrigues, who were listed among those signed, have both come out to say that their consent was not taken. 

She said that it was worrying that fake petitions were being signed. The Minister said the President’s House had not even received the petition. 

The petition had protested against the politicization of armed forces in the wake of comments like “Modiji ki Sena” made by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. 

It contained names of 156 officers but it was not clear on whose behest the campaign was initiated. Among those named were former Navy chief Arun Prakash who is active on social media and shares his views frequently on burning issues. 

After the Balakot air strike, the opposition had accused the government of politicizing the armed forces and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election speech is under the Election Commission’s scanner for having referring to the military action. 

In the petition dated April 11, the veterans urged 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”.

They said that “some concerns have caused considerable alarm and disquiet among both the serving and the retired personnel of the forces”. 

They have also objected to the use of pictures of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman — who was captured by Pakistan and then released — in posters along with the image of soldiers in election hoardings and campaign.

“It is very worrying that if people are writing fake letters and allegations are being levelled by vested groups. It is highly condemnable. It is happening at the time of elections,” said Sitharaman.

Former IAF chief Suri, one of the eight former chiefs of armed forces on the list of signatories, said he has contended that armed forces should remain apolitical but said that his consent was not sought for the letter.

Rodrigues denied signing the letter and called it fake news.

“I don’t know what it is all about. All my life, we had been apolitical. After 42 years as an officer, it is a little late to change. We in the services have always done what the government in power ordered us…,” he said.

But some other veterans told media houses that they had given their consent to the letter. 

The letter said: “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 ‘Modiji ki Sena’.” 

The letter quotes the names of Generals Rodrigues, Shankar Roy Chowdhury and Deepak Kapoor; Admirals Laxminarayan Ramdas, Vishnu Bhagwat, Arun Prakash and Sureesh Mehta; and Air Chief Marshal Suri.