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Rush to discredit veterans backfires

An officer tweeted: 'The narrative is being hijacked on the issue of who signed or did not sign the letter. The key issue is politicians exploiting the fair name of the soldiers'

By Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in New Delhi
  • Published 13.04.19, 6:25 AM
  • Updated 13.04.19, 7:34 AM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addresses a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday. Nirmala has used words like “fake” to describe the defence veterans' letter. (PTI)

Attempts to question the authenticity of a letter attributed to defence veterans have ensured that attention has stayed focused on a perceived bid to milk military operations for electoral gains.

The unprecedented expression of anguish by over 150 veteran officers was aimed at efforts by political leaders to take “credit for military operations like cross-border strikes, and even going so far as to claim the Armed Forces to be ‘Modi ji ki Sena’. 

The letter addressed to the President, who is also the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, did not name any party or political leader. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked first-time voters to dedicate their votes to the soldiers who carried out the Balakot air strikes while Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath had referred to the armed forces as “Modi ji ki Sena”.

The letter, carrying the names of over 150 veterans, had become public well past Thursday-Friday midnight.

On Friday, several former members of the defence top brass stepped forward to stand by the letter after two former chiefs of staff denied they had signed it.

Among those who endorsed the letter were former army chiefs Gen. Shankar Roy Chowdhury and Gen. Deepak Kapoor and former navy chief Adm. Sureesh Mehta.

The two senior veterans who denied signing it are former army chief Gen. S.F. Rodrigues and the former air force chief, Air Chief Marshal N.C. Suri.

With defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman using words like “fake” to describe the letter and the allegations, a veteran released trail mail that suggested the two officers had endorsed the contents of the letter.

Rashtrapati Bhavan said it had not received the letter. Sources said it had been emailed to the President’s house. Whether the mail had reached the intended address was unclear till Friday evening.

Amid the attempts to discredit the letter, an officer summed up the motive through a tweet: “The narrative is being hijacked on the issue of who signed or did not sign the letter. The key issue is politicians exploiting the fair name of the soldiers.”

But several officers did stay focused on the crux of the matter.

Air Vice-Marshal Kapil Kak, a retired officer whose name figures on the letter, told The Telegraph: “I completely endorse every word in the letter sent to the President. What we are seeing in the country is complete destruction of each and every institution, including the politicisation of the army by the ruling party. We thought it is our duty to put an end to this shameless politicisation of the military in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections by writing the letter to the President. We did not have any option left but to scream against it and to send the message across.”

The letter, he said, had been sent by email. “I am surprised that Rashtrapati Bhavan is not aware of the letter,” he said.

Referring to defence minister Sitharaman’s response, Kak said: “This is a deliberate attempt by people belonging to the ruling party to put a question mark on the credibility of the letter and terming it a conspiracy by the Congress.

“The defence minister is making it a political slugfest by giving it a political colour rather than looking within. We have nothing to do with either the Congress or the BJP.”

Political leaders of the ruling party, he said, are claiming credit for military operations.

“Such politicisation of the military is unprecedented and that’s why we decided to intervene,” Kak said.

“Here you have a chief minister of a state indulging in it; you have the PM making similar statements, misusing the armed forces. It’s not just once — there’s a pattern in their speeches. This is nothing but destruction of the army.”

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