An Army veteran who spearheaded a campaign by ex-military personnel to condemn the "politicisation of the armed forces" ahead of the Lok Sabha elections has expressed surprise over three former officers backing off a day after endorsing the letter, and said that their initial words of support are clearly recorded in the email chain.
"I really cannot say why they are distancing themselves from the letter. They may have their own reasons, and I respect them. But I have recorded the consent of all the veterans to whom I sent the mails," Major General Sunil Vombatkere told NDTV on Saturday. Former Air Chief Marshal Nirmal Chandra Suri and retired Army chief General SF Rodrigues were among those who reconsidered their support to the letter.
The army veteran dismissed the former Air Chief Marshal's claim that the text of the letter was not shown to him before it was e-mailed to President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday. "Suri would have seen it in the mail because it was there along with other veterans' emails. It was not sent to him alone," he said, denying that the "dissent" put forth by the three former officers has diluted the message in any way.
Major General Vombatkere said he doesn't know why the President's office claims to have not received the e-mail. "The email was sent by Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury to three addresses in Rashtrapati Bhavan. If I recall right, one of them is email@example.com. I do not know how they have not received it. That's not clear to me at all."
The former Air Chief Marshal, for his part, said that his support was very specific in context. "Please understand that my statement was merely in the context that the armed forces must continue to be apolitical and serve through a democratically elected government. That's all I endorsed," he told NDTV.
Former Air Chief Marshal Suri also refused to comment on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's alleged reference to the Indian Army as "Modiji ki Sena (PM Narendra Modi's soldiers)", saying that he does not know enough of the issue in question to make a rational statement. "What does sena mean? It means the people who support you. In this context, all BJP members support their leader, and so they can be called Modiji ki Sena. The people who voted for him in 2014 are Modiji ki Sena. As the Prime Minister, he is the chief executive and, therefore, all of us are his sena. The armed forces are no exception," he said.
The letter sent to the President had asserted that it was "unacceptable" for political leaders to take credit for military operations such as cross-border strikes and refer to the armed forces as "Modiji ki Sena". While the Congress cited the letter to attack the BJP, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman termed it as a "fake letter signed by vested groups".