A cross-section of Army, Navy and IAF officers told TOI on Monday that though they may have their “own political leanings”, they take “immense pride” in the fact that the armed forces had “a stellar record” of being “apolitical and secular” right since Independence.
“It’s extremely disturbing to see the way the armed forces are being used to score points in the political mudslinging, whether it is the 2016 surgical strike or the February 26 air strikes on the Jaish camp in Balakot. The armed forces serve the nation, not the political party in office. They are not a private militia or Sena,” said a serving Major-General, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
General V P Malik (Retd), who was the Army chief during the 1999 Kargil conflict, said politicisation of the armed forces should be avoided at all costs. “I saw attempts during the elections after the Kargil conflict. As the Army chief, I objected to them. I raised the matter with the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was receptive and agreed it was not done,” he told TOI.
Former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd), in turn, said the armed forces were sworn to uphold the Constitution of India, take “lawful orders” from the “duly-elected government of the day”, and cannot be “appropriated” by any political party. “If the statement (of Yogi Adityanath) is true, it’s highly shocking and inappropriate. One hopes the PM (Narendra Modi) will convey his disapproval,” he added.
The Election Commission, in fact, just last month issued an advisory that photographs of defence personnel should not be used in political advertisements after it was found that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman had figured in some election posters put up by BJP workers. Varthaman’s fate, of course, had transfixed the nation after he ended up in Pakistan army’s custody for two days after his MiG-21 fighter was shot down just after he downed a Pakistani F-16 during the dogfight along the Line of Control on February 27.
The EC had also reiterated political leaders should “exercise great caution” during their election campaign while making any reference to the armed forces, who were “apolitical and neutral stakeholders in a modern democracy”.
Military officers feel there has been an increasing trend in recent years to needlessly politicise the armed forces as well as use them for building bridges, cleaning waste in high-altitude areas, organising events and other sundry tasks. “This detracts them from their primary role of preparing for war, guarding the frontiers and tackling insurgency,” said a Brigadier.
The Army also remains steadfast against political calls made during election campaigning to raise new “single-class” units like the Gujarat, Ahir, Kalinga, Paswan or Tribal Regiments, stressing that the well-defined policy since 1947 has been not to raise any new battalion based on a particular class, creed, community or region.