Veterans’ letter to Prez: ex-chiefs endorsed it

Veterans’ letter to Prez: ex-chiefs endorsed it

Ex-Air Chief N C Suri, former Army chief S F Rodrigues had earlier denied their endorsement

Former Air Chief Nirmal Chandra Suri and former Army Chief S F Rodrigues were indeed among the veterans who endorsed their anguished letter to the President over the politicisation of the armed forces in recent weeks, the three veterans who drafted and circulated the letter for signatures have said.



Television news channels had on Friday reported that ACM Suri and Gen. Rodrigues had claimed they had not endorsed the letter, an unprecedented one that has come as a slap in the face of the government and the ruling BJP, who have repeatedly sought to claim credit for military actions and co-opt the armed forces for electoral gains. Which may explain why some news agencies and TV news channels that have virtually functioned as the government’s mouthpieces over the last five years sought to discredit the letter and the veterans behind it, rather than questioning the government and the ruling party over the blatant and brazen violation of the norms of civil-military relations as well as of the election model code of conduct.   

The letter was drafted and circulated by email by retired Major General S G Vombatkere, former Navy Chief Admiral L Ramdas and retired Indian Army Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury, Maj. Gen. Vombatkere told Deccan Herald. It was endorsed by 156 veterans of the army, air force and navy.

The veterans were motivated to write the letter after repeated instances of politicisation of the armed forces, especially in the last few weeks in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, Maj. Gen. Vombatkere said. In the letter, the veterans say they wrote to the President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces because even a complaint to the Election Commission and its action against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s “Modi ji ki Sena” remark had not been enough to result in “change of behaviour and practice on the ground”.  

On the row created by ACM Suri and Gen. Rodrigues saying they had not endorsed the letter, he said, “We sent out the email with the proposed letter to the President, a copy to be sent to the Chief Election Commissioner, and I received and recorded the responses in time-sequence. We included the names of veterans in the list only based on their responses.”

ACM Suri’s response came in from his email ID at 7.28 am on April 9, and it read, “I am of the firm view that the Armed Forces must continue to be apolitical and oriented to serve the country through the democratically elected Government. This would be in the larger interest of the country. It is in this context that I endorse the appeal to the Supreme Commander. Air Chief Marshal NC Suri.”

Gen. Rodrigues’ response came in at 12.05 pm on April 8, and simply said, “I endorse the appeal to the Supreme Commander. General Dr S Rodrigues (Retd)”.

Indeed, following the controversy on television on Friday, Admiral Ramdas wrote to ACM Suri and Gen. Rodrigues from Singapore, where he is visiting his daughter, “…I was so delighted when I saw both your signatures and endorsements to the letter from the Veterans to the President and Supreme Commander…I am therefore at a total loss as to why I have just had some inputs to say that both of you disclaim any knowledge of the letter and that you cannot associate yourself with the letter?!”

Admiral Ramdas goes on to say, “There must be some misunderstanding or someone creating mischief…In the interest of keeping our credibility as a responsible group of senior and other veterans – I hope this will clarify the matter and that you will also maintain this to the media”.

Will ACM Suri and Gen. Rodrigues clarify their position?

On the President’s office saying he had received no such letter from the veterans, Maj. Gen. Vombatkere said, “The letter was sent by email to three Rashtrapati Bhavan email addresses. We are also sending the letter by registered post.”

Major Chowdhury put up a screenshot of the email header, which showed that he had sent it to; and

“The Armed Forces have always been apolitical. The trend of politicisation, which has become more prominent now, is going to spoil the morale of the forces. But the men in uniform (serving officers and soldiers) cannot speak up, because they are bound by military laws. That’s why we veterans have to”, Maj. Gen. Vombatkere told Deccan Herald.

Speaking of the dangers of politicisation, he quoted Field Marshal Philip Chetwode’s speech to young cadets in 1932 at the opening of the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun, “The young Indian man of education seems very attracted by politics. May I urge you to remember that politics do not, and cannot, find any place in army life… An army can have no place in politics. It is the paid servant of the people and is at the disposal of the Government of the day, whatever may be the political complexion of it…Once there is any suspicion that an army, or any part of it, is biased politically, from that moment that army has lost the confidence of the nation who pays for it. It is no longer impartial, and that way lies chaos and civil war.”

On Twitter, it was all “chaos and civil war” on Friday, with BJP trolls attacking Major Chowdhury over the letter which has clearly implicated the ruling party and the government, even as more veterans said they, too, endorsed the letter to the President.