Veterans of India’s Armed Forces—soldiers, sailors and airmen—have written to the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to take action against use of the military for furthering political party propaganda by political parties.
Signed by 156 retired personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force, the letter sent on 11 April 2019 has been copied to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of the Election Commission of India (ECI) “for information and action”.
(However, later a row erupted as the President’s office denied receiving such a letter, while two veterans denied giving their consent for the letter.)
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In the letter, the veterans urged the President and the ECI “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 letter cites examples of how ruling BJP leaders have been flagrantly violating the “secular and apolitical” nature of our military forces as also the ‘model code of conduct’ for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which began on 11 April.
It says, “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”.” (The reference is to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's speech).
The letter also points out the appropriation of the capturing and subsequent release by Pakistan of IAF pilot, Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, without specifically naming the BJP.
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“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.”
The veterans write that they appreciate the CEC giving a “prompt response” to “complaints by some senior retired personnel, including a written submission from a former Chief of the Naval Staff to the Chief Election Commissioner.”
“A notification had been issued asking for an explanation from those responsible for these statements, including from the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.”
However, the retired personnel say they “regret” the fact that these steps have not resulted in “any substantive change of behaviour and practice on the ground.”
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They express apprehension that incidents of such politicisation and appropriation of the armed forces might only increase given the seven-phase elections that end on 19 May.
“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.”
The veterans underscore the fact that the Armed Forces were established under and owe their allegiance to the Constitution of India — and are “under the supreme command” of the President, because the President is “legal custodian” of the Constitution.
The military veterans assert that “such misuse of the Armed Forces ... would impinge adversely on the morale and fighting efficiency of the serving man or woman in uniform.”
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“It could therefore directly affect national security and national integrity. ”
They write that the currently serving personnel cannot speak out “even on matters which might affect their interests adversely” — as they are “subject to military law and are governed by the parliamentary Acts of their respective Service”.
Therefore, these veterans who remain “in continuous touch with” with their own military fraternity as well as with serving personnel at all levels, have taken it upon themselves to raise “concerns which have caused considerable alarm and disquiet among both the serving and the retired personnel of our Forces.”