But the letter ran into some controversy after two of the eight former chiefs named as signatories, General S F Rodrigues and Air Chief Marshal N C Suri, said their consent had not taken before being added to the list, even as they affirmed that the “apolitical and secular” armed forces should not be dragged into politics.
Latching onto the statements made by Rodrigues and Suri, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman promptly dubbed it a “fake” letter. “It is absolutely condemnable that names were mentioned without taking permission,” she said.
But several others on the list of signatories, including Admirals Vishnu Bhagwat and Sureesh Mehta, Generals Shankar Roy Chowdhury and Deepak Kapoor, acknowledged they had endorsed the letter to the President. “It’s a completely diversionary move to dub the letter a fake, instead of addressing the main and substantive issue of the blatant politicization of the armed forces,” Bhagwat told TOI.
Former Navy chief Admiral L Ramdas, the main driving force behind the letter, also said that both Rodrigues and Suri had endorsed the letter through emails, which were released by his associates later in the day. Among the 156 signatories, there are 35 retired officers of the rank of major-general or above from the three Services.
Incidentally, TOI on April 1 had reported that a cross-section of serving and retired officers, including former Army chief General V P Malik and former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash, had taken umbrage at the way UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath had dubbed the Indian Army as “Modiji ki Sena” at a poll rally.
The April 11 letter, on its part, appeals to the President, as the supreme commander of the armed forces and legal custodian of the Constitution of India, to “ensure the secular and apolitical character of our armed forces is preserved”.
“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 ‘Modiji ki Sena’,” said the letter.
“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, especially of IAF Wing Commander Abhinav Varthaman, displayed,” it added.
The letter urged the President to take “all necessary steps to urgently direct all political parties that they must forthwith desist from using the military, uniforms or symbols and any actions by military formations or personnel, for political purposes or to further their political agendas”.