The former navy chief, Admiral L. Ramdas, has written to President Ram Nath Kovind expressing anguish at the absence of an acknowledgement of the letter a group of veterans had sent him urging him to stop parties from using the military for political gain.
“I am constrained to bring to your notice the fact that to date, namely 28 April 2019, there has been no acknowledgement of receipt of this letter sent by email (on April 11) to three official IDs of Rashtrapati Bhavan. None of these have bounced, which implies that they have indeed been received,” Ramdas wrote to Kovind, the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, on Sunday.
More than 150 veterans, including several retired service chiefs, had signed the April 11 letter, written shortly after the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections had ended.
Since then, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders have continued to seek votes in the name of security personnel killed by militants, and military operations like the September 2016 “surgical strikes” on cross-border terror launch pads and the February 26 air strikes on Balakot, Pakistan.
Ramdas has in his letter mentioned the response received from the Rashtrapati Bhavan press secretary: “That no such letter was received on any of the mail IDs and that the hard copies which were dispatched later both by Speed Post and registered mail were received but had been marked ‘NFA’ because there was no signature.”
“NFA” stands for “no further action”.
“This is strange indeed, since the letters were signed by Major (retd) Priyadarshi Chowdhury on behalf of the list of endorsees,” the April 28 letter says.
“Mr President Sir, I have written to you earlier, purely in my individual capacity, with regard to several matters of concern affecting the country and us in the armed forces. However, the letter on politicisation dated April 11, 2019, is the first that has been addressed to the President of India (as the Supreme Commander of India’s armed forces) and endorsed by such a large number of veterans.
“Our demands and concerns are very simple —namely to ensure that the armed forces are not used for political purposes by any political party — hence the appeal to both of you and the Chief Election Commissioner to urgently take necessary and firm action.
“We veterans have looked up to your high office with deep respect in the Constitution of India which you represent. We would therefore deeply appreciate a formal acknowledgement from your office of the receipt of the open letter addressed to the Rashtrapathiji and the CEC.”
An attempt had been made to discredit the April 11 letter and those behind it after two former chiefs of staff who were mentioned as endorsers denied they had signed it. Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had called the letter and the allegations “fake”. But several other veterans had publicly stood by the letter.
“Attributing all kinds of motives and insinuating deliberately mischievous intent has questioned the credibility and integrity of the 154 retired officers, including 6 former chiefs of army and navy, as well as a large number of flag rank officers from all the three defence services who have maintained their positions and endorsed the letter,” Ramdas wrote.
He added that after investigation “it has been more than fully established that everyone of the original 156 endorsements has been indeed verified to be genuine”.
“It is also true that only two out of 156 officers who signed on denied doing so, either due to a misunderstanding or change of heart. I have been in communication with both and their names on the first list have been struck through,” Ramdas wrote.
He said the April 11 letter had later received endorsement from scores of other veterans, who were as concerned as the signatories over the continuing use of the military in election posters, speeches and campaigns.
“The total numbers including those in the second list which has been sent to you have reached a total of 422 and still counting,” he wrote.
President Ram Nath Kovind Telegraph file picture