After several news organisations reported on Friday on 156 army veterans having written a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind to direct political parties to stop politicising the Indian Armed Forces, controversy has surfaced regarding the signatories of the letter. The letter, which included names of eight former service chiefs, stated that political parties and candidates are currently acting in total disregard of the declaration of the model code of conduct.
By Friday afternoon, reports emerged that some signatories of the letter were denying knowledge of the letter or that they had signing such a letter. A reporter on Twitter said that Former Air Force Chief NC Suri had denied signing the letter. Another journalist tweeted that former Army Chief General SF Rodrigues also denied being a signatory to the letter. Incidentally, his name was the first on the list of signatories on the letter. ANI reported that former Army Vice Chief Lt General ML Naidu, also named as one of the signatories, told the news agency that neither had his consent been taken for such a letter nor had he written it.
Air Chief Marshal NC Suri to ANI: To put an end to it,I wrote that armed forces are apolitical&support the politically elected govt. 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. 2/2 https://t.co/pAU6L6CZ54— ANI (@ANI) April 12, 2019
Former Army Vice Chief Lt General ML Naidu( who is mentioned at 20th in the list of armed forces veterans who purportedly wrote letter to President): No, my consent has not been taken for any such letter and neither have I written any such letter. (file pic) pic.twitter.com/v8H35Hp2WN— ANI (@ANI) April 12, 2019
Speaking to ANI, Air Chief Marshal Suri said that the letter has been written by a Major Chowdhury was circulating on WhatsApp and over email. “To put an end to it, I wrote that armed forces are apolitical&support the politically elected govt. 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 Marshal Suri said.
Army veteran SF Rodrigues denied that he knew the author of the letter. He told ANI, “There isn’t any role for us to be political at all, which is why we should never be politicised. Anyone can write anything these days you know that. That’s nothing new.” He said that such things are publicised as fake news and sold by media as a “scoop”.
However some signatories have confirmed their consent and endorsement of the letter. Former Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta confirmed to a reporter that he signed the letter and endorsed it. Another veteran, Major General Harsha Kakkar, 31st on the list of signatories on the letter, confirmed to ANI that he had consented to signing it and was aware of its contents.
Former Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta however confirms that he has signed the letter, endorses it.— Manu Pubby (@manupubby) April 12, 2019
Major General Harsha Kakkar (who is 31st on the list of armed forces veterans who purportedly wrote letter to President): Yes, I had given my consent for being a signatory to the letter. I had given my consent only after knowing the contents of it. (file pic) pic.twitter.com/o8rqGfqyAp— ANI (@ANI) April 12, 2019
In the most recent development thought, officers who took the signatures for the letter confirmed to a journalist that they have email endorsements from all the signatories and have conveyed this document as a reminder to the two army chiefs now denying having signed the letter.
On the matter of the veterans' letter to the President – the officers who collected the signatures have confirmed they have emailed endorsements from -all- the signatories. They have conveyed this document as a reminder to the two Chiefs, who may clarify. @ShivAroor @manupubby— Raghu Karnad (@rkarnad) April 12, 2019
The letter in question, referred to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s statement describing the Indian Army as "Modiji ki sena" (Narendra Modi's army) in an election speech earlier this month. It added that though the Election Commission has issued a notification asking political parties to refrain from displaying photographs of defence personnel or photographs of functions involving defence personnel in advertisements or as part of their election campaign, it has not translated to any change of practice on the ground
“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 letter says, adding that a misuse of the armed forces will affect the morale and fighting efficiency of the forces and thus directly affect national security and national integrity.
The eight former service chiefs whose names were included as signatories were former chiefs of Army Staff of the Indian Army General SF Rodrigues, Gen Shankar Roy Chowdhury, General Deepak Kapoor; former Navy chiefs Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, Admiral Arun Prakash, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, and former Chief of Air Staff Marshal NC Suri.