While the Narendra Modi government is being slammed, and rightly so, for the politicization of armed forces, we should not lose sight of the fact that other interest groups are also involved. The fact that two of the eight former defence chiefs have denied having signed the petition to President Ram Nath Kovind in this regard clearly shows that the anti-Modi elements are not exactly the paragons of propriety.
Over 150 military veterans, over one-third of whom of the rank of brigadier or above, had complained in a letter of the gauche manner in which the forces were mentioned and depicted in the ongoing election campaign. However, former Army chief General S.F. Rodrigues and former Air Force chief N.C. Suri have denied that they signed any such letter. Suri went to the extent of writing another letter to the President’s office to make his stand clear.
Rodrigues too was unambiguous in his denial: “Don’t know what it [letter] is all about. All my life, we have been apolitical. After 42 years as an officer, it’s a little late to change. Always put India first. Don’t know who these people are, but this is a classic manifestation of fake news.”
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reacted, saying, “It is very worrying that if people are writing fake letters and allegations are being leveled by vested groups. It is highly condemnable. It is happening at the time of elections.”
It was disingenuous on her part to have termed the entire exercise as “condemnable,” for most signatories, including six chiefs, never denied having petitioned the President. While she is correct regarding “vested groups,” as evident from the denial of Rodrigues and Suri, the fact of such a letter is indisputable.
Its content too should have eliblockquoted a response from the Defence Minister. “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,” the letter said. “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.”
Writing on behalf of the “men and women of all ranks in the Army, Navy and Air Force,” the veterans objected 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.’ 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 “misuse” of Armed Forces, the letter said, “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.”
Neither the Defence Minister nor anybody else from the government has responded to such serious charges. The Bharatiya Janata Party government, which claims to put national security above everything else, should have explained its position on the subject. Just because some vested interests are trying to disparage it on national security doesn’t absolve it of its duty to come clean over the issue.