NEW DELHI – After Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked for votes in the name of martyred soldiers, eight former service chiefs and over 100 veterans have written to President Ramnath Kovind, the supreme commander of the armed forces, expressing concern about the use of the military and referring to a recent operation to garner votes in the Lok Sabha election 2019.
The general elections kicked off on Thursday with polling on 91 of the 543 seats to the Lok Sabha.
The veterans have said the Indian military is apolitical in nature and structure and that “India’s Armed Forces have loyally upheld the democratic principle of civil control over the military.”
The letter, signed by former army chiefs General SF Rodrigues and General Deepak Kapoor, former air chief marshal NC Suri and former navy chief Suresh Mehta among many others.
The veterans released the letter to the media late in the night after round one of the seven-phased Lok Sabha election 2019 had ended on Thursday.
It particularly referred to the phrase, “Modi ji ki Sena” used by Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath during a political rally in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad in March.
“The unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking 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 says.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi came under the radar of the poll watchdog after he appealed to first-time voters to “dedicate” their votes to the “brave soldiers” who carried out the Balakot air strike and to the “braves martyred” in the Pulwama terror attack. Calling it a violation of the Model Code of Conduct, the Osmanabad District Election Officer forwarded a report to the Election Commission whose final response is now awaited.
The Election Commission had asked already the chief minister to be “more careful” in future.
The Election Commission had also asked political parties not use photographs of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who shot down a Pakistan Air Force Jet over the Line of Control before being captured by Pakistan on February 27.
The veterans also referred to photographs of the election campaign in which “party workers are seen wearing military uniforms; and posters and images with pictures of soldiers and especially of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, displayed”.
They expressed concern that the EC directive did not appear to have “resulted in any substantive change of behaviour and practice on the ground.”
“We do appreciate that complaints by some senior retired personnel, including a written submission from a former chief of the Naval Staff to the Chief Election Commissioner, have elicited a prompt response. Indeed a notification has been issued asking for an explanation from those responsible for these statements, including from the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. However, we regret to state that these do not have appear to have resulted in any substantive change of behaviour and practice on the ground,” the letter noted.
They also say in the letter that political parties are disregarding the model code of conduct and expressed apprehensions that “such incidents may only increase as polling day draws near”.