Veterans’ concerns for a secular military
A group of over 150 Indian military Veterans wrote a letter to the President of India in his capacity as Supreme Commander of India’s Armed Forces, expressing their serious concern at the recent rather blatant use by politicians of different parties, of the military, military uniforms or symbols, and actions by military formations or personnel, in their election campaigns.
The Veterans’ concern was that such misuse may affect the secular character of the armed forces which, as is well known, is Government of India’s instrument of last resort for both internal and external security. India’s armed forces have been effective in the service of the nation largely because of its a political character and its control under the civil authority. Thus, a politicisation of the armed forces could reflect adversely on national security.
However, two former service chiefs and a former vice-chief of army staff, informed the media that they had not endorsed the letter and their permission to add their names as signatories had not been taken. The letter to the President was also termed “fake news” by a senior minister of the central government.
This writer had meticulously recorded the email responses of Veterans who had endorsed the letter to the President, in the time-sequence of their receipt, and the responses of all three senior Veterans who had denied having endorsed the letter are on record. Some of these are already in the public domain.
As regards the regrettable comment of this letter being “fake news”, it is necessary to state that the letter is neither news nor is it fake. The letter is an appeal to the President of India to uphold a political character of the Armed Forces, of which he is the supreme commander.
Those who have denied having endorsed it possibly had second thoughts after having endorsed it like any good soldier would have done. Speaking of good soldiers and politics, it is apt to quote the advice of Field Marshal Philip Chetwode to the first batch of Indian cadets, when he inaugurated the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun in 1932. He spoke thus: “The young Indian man of education seems very attracted by politics. May I urge you to remember that politics do 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 that Government. 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 that pays for it. It is no longer impartial, and that way lies chaos and civil war”.
Notwithstanding the controversy created by three very senior Veterans denying that they endorsed the letter to the President, the fact is that the content of the letter remains the view of Veterans who endorsed it. Indeed, there are other Veterans who have called in asking why they were not given the opportunity to endorse the letter. This writer invites them to send in their endorsements to the letter and its contents since opinion on such a matter is not time-bound.
(SG Vombatkere retired from active service in 1996 in the rank of Major General. He along with former Navy Chief Admiral L Ramdas, and retired Indian Army Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury had initiated the letter of protest endorsed by 156 veterans)