The letter expresses concern over the armed forces being used for political gains.
New Delhi: The President's office has denied receiving a letter from over 150 veterans expressing "alarm and disquiet" at the armed forces being used for "political purposes", sources in the office said. The letter, reported to have been sent to President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday, the first day of the national election, refers to the "unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes and claiming the armed forces to be 'Modi ji ki Sena". Triggering a controversy, several senior retired officers, including two former service chiefs, denied having signed the letter.
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- "...we write to bring to your attention, as the Supreme Commander of India's Armed Forces, some concerns which have caused considerable alarm and disquiet among both the serving and the retired personnel of our Forces," the alleged letter reads.
- "We have received no such letter," a Rashtrapati Bhavan source said.
- The alleged letter mentions Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath referring to the armed forces as "Modiji ki Sena", or "Prime Minister Narendra Modi's army" at an election rally in Uttar Pradesh recently. The Chief Minister was reprimanded by the Election Commission for the statements
- Those among the 156 "undersigned" who have denied giving consent to the letter are former Army Chief General (retired) SF Rodrigues, former Air Force chief NC Suri and Lt General (retired) ML Naidu. "We in the services have always done what the government in power ordered us. We are an instrument of the state. We are apolitical. Anyone can say anything and then sell it as fake news. I don't know who this gentleman is who wrote this," General (retired) Rodrigues told news agency ANI.
- "I wrote that armed forces are apolitical and support the politically elected government. And no, my consent has not been taken for any such letter. I don't agree with whatever has been written in that letter. We have been misquoted," Air Chief Marshal (retired) NC Suri told ANI.
- The letter also refers to photos of "election platforms and campaigns where party workers are seen wearing military uniforms and posters and images with pictures of soldiers, especially Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman". Pilot Varthaman was held captive for three days by Pakistan after his plane was shot down in an air duel between the two countries on February 27.
- Reacting to the controversy, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman called it "condemnable". "Two senior officers said they have not given consent. It is worrying that fake letters being signed by vested groups," she said. The minister did not respond when asked about those veterans who said they signed the letter. The Congress attacked the government, saying "it's clear that soldiers stand with India and not the BJP".
- Reprimands by the Election Commission "do not appear to have resulted in any substantive change of behavior and practice on the ground," the letter read. Actor-turned-politician Urmila Matondkar of the Congress came under fire recently for using Abhinandan Varthaman's photo during a roadside campaign.
- The letter appeals to the President to ensure that the secular and apolitical character of the armed forces is preserved and to urgently "direct all political parties to stop using the army, military uniforms or symbols or military operations" for politics.
- Major General (retired) Harsha Kakkar, who too is on the list, said he gave his consent to the letter. "This letter is not to the defence forces. This letter is to the political head of the country, our commander-in-chief and to all the political parties," General (retired) Shankar Roy Chowdhury told NDTV.
Here is the full text of the veterans' letter reportedly sent to President Ram Nath Kovind:
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