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Military veterans have complained against Asian News International (ANI) to its partner Thomson Reuters, alleging that ANI ‘defamed’ the intentions of an appeal that was against the use of the armed forces for purposes of politics.
“We believe that ANI has acted at the behest of India’s ruling party to manipulate quotes and defame our honourable intentions,” Priyadarshi Chowdhury, a retired major, said in a letter to Reuters.
According to the claims of an ANI report on April 12, the few veterans who were signatories of the letter had denied the fact that they endorsed a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind urging him to stop political parties to use the military for their own benefit.
“We… urge you to take all necessary steps to urgently direct all political parties that they must forthwith desist from using the military, military uniforms or symbols, and any actions by military formations or personnel, for political purposes or to further their political agendas,” the letter read.
Several BJP veterans and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi have used references to surgical strikes and the Balakot air strikes to gain votes, more enthusiastically at the time when India is undergoing the 17th Lok Sabha elections.
Former army vice-chief, Lt Gen. M.L. Naidu was quoted by ANI as saying, “No, my consent was not taken for any such letter and neither have I written any such letter.” However, on April 14, Naidu accused ANI of misquoting him. According to other veterans also, on April 8 Naidu had endorsed the letter to the President by e-mail.
ANI also claimed that Gen. S.F. Rodrigues and Air Chief Marshal N.C. Suri, two former armed forces chiefs, denied signing the letter.
However, trail mail was released by Major Chowdhury, who had written the letter to the President on the veterans’ behalf, showing that the contents had been endorsed by the two officers. Chowdhury is the one who has written to Reuters now.
On the night of April 24, the names endorsing the appeal had risen from the original 156 to 422. The name of Lt. Gen. Naidu has been retained by the veterans on the list that was updated. They had crossed out the names of Gen. Rodrigues and Air Chief Marshal Suri, as the agency report was not contested by them. The agency report stated that they had denied signing it. But due to an e-mail suggesting that the two had endorsed the appeal, their names have not altogether been dropped.
ANI has said that the accusation that it manipulated quotes of veterans was baseless.
When The Telegraph contacted ANI editor Smita Prakash, she said she has nothing to say about it. When the misquoting controversy broke on April 13, Prakash, tweeting about the veterans, wrote, “They are going to embarrass themselves if they play into hands of vested interests by saying they did not say what they did say on the record. If they had a rethink on their stand, that’s a different issue.”
All the vets we have quoted in our tweets are on video and/or audio. They are going to embarrass themselves if they play into hands of vested interests by saying they didn’t say what they did say on record. If they have had a rethink on their stand that’s a different issue.
— Smita Prakash (@smitaprakash) April 13, 2019
Additionally, Prakash has accused Maj Chowdhary of having political affiliation himself.
hahaha. Expose! Now want to see if the newspaper read only by snapshots does an article on this https://t.co/rh9JrNmn8l
— Smita Prakash (@smitaprakash) April 26, 2019
Further, the Editors Guild and the Press Council of India were written to by Major Chowdhury, who asked them if they think ANI’s misreporting “meets the best practices for editorial propriety”.
Thomson Reuters has an investor relationship and strategic partnership with ANI over editorial content. Expressing anger over ANI’s recent reporting on the petition, Major Chowdhury wrote a letter to Reuters on behalf of the veterans, a part of which read, “We believe that ANI has acted at the behest of India’s ruling party to manipulate quotes and defame our honourable intentions. In our opinion, ANI’s conduct tantamounts to being perfidious with a view of influencing the ongoing elections, in India, in a biased manner.”
Major Chowdhury asked Reuters to furnish certain information so that the veterans can plan how to further the act. He asked to know whether the practices, political affiliations, and reputation of ANI had been evaluated by Reuters, before expanding its strategic relationship with ANI in 2018. If the answer to this is ‘yes’, he further wants to know what Reuters had found out about ANI. If the answer is ‘no’, he wanted to know how exactly Reuters evaluates the validity and quality of the editorial material that it receives. He further questioned Reuters on whether what ANI did match their mission statement of “…we do business according to the highest standards of ethical and responsible conduct”.
The letter further read, “Thomson Reuters commands respect and trust the world over, and in recognition of this, we hope for a reply addressing our concerns.”
Previously, a letter made rounds on social media. The letter was alleged to be written and supported by several armed forces veterans to the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, asking to put a stop to the use of the military for political purposes. “We… urge you to take all necessary steps to urgently direct all political parties that they must forthwith desist from using the military, military uniforms or symbols, and any actions by military formations or personnel, for political purposes or to further their political agendas,” the letter said.
Military veterans including 8 service chiefs write to the President: 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”. pic.twitter.com/won1NBsGlD
— Sushant Singh (@SushantSin) April 12, 2019
As per the initial reports, the said letter was signed by veterans including former service chiefs, General SF Rodrigues (retired), General Shankar Roy Chowdhury (retired), General Deepak Kapoor (retired), former Air Force chief NC Suri and four former Navy chiefs – Laxminarayan Ramdas, Vishnu Bhagwat, Arun Prakash, Suresh Mehta.
However, shortly after the letter started going viral, few veterans, who were mentioned among the signatories, including Air Chief Marshal NC Suri and General SF Rodrigues denied signing any such letter.
Gen SF Rodrigues: Don’t know what it(purported letter written by armed forces veterans to Pres)is all about.All my life,we've been apolitical.Aftr,42 yrs as officer,it's a little late to change.Always put India first.Don’t know who these ppl are,classic manifestation of fake news pic.twitter.com/Cgpo57sVhq
— ANI (@ANI) April 12, 2019
ANI reported that the signatories have denied writing any such letter. It quoted former Army Chief General SF Rodrigues, “I do not know what it is all about. All my life, we have been apolitical. After 42 years as an officer, it is a little late to change. We have always put India first. I do not know who these people are and it (the letter) is a classic manifestation of fake news.”
According to the report, even sources from the President’s office denied receiving any such letter.
Rashtrapati Bhavan Source denies receiving any letter supposedly written by armed forces veterans to the President which is circulating in the media. pic.twitter.com/rOWedMumsk
— ANI (@ANI) April 12, 2019
While the news was abuzz with the letter being fake, Major Chowdhury countered the statement by the two veterans who denied signing the letter. The other allegation that was being levied was that no letter of such nature had reached the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Maj Chowdhary retorted by tweeted the screenshot of the mail sent.
"In an unprecedented election-eve letter of the kind India has never seen before in the 07 decades since independence, over 150 armed forces veterans have written to the President & C in C…"
We promise to defend our integrity and that of India.https://t.co/QqJwgracFb
— ପ୍ରିୟଦର୍ଶୀ/प्रियदर्शी/Priyadarshi (@MajChowdhury) April 11, 2019
The mail was sent to three different mailboxes in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Two of the three mailboxes are in existence, as confirmed by Firstpost, however, it could not be ascertained whether the letter did reach them.
Interestingly, ANI had earlier reported former Army Vice Chief Lt General ML Naidu of denying giving his consent to the letter.
However, he has now said that ANI had misquoted him and falsely attributed to him saying to have not given his consent, as reported by NewsCentral 24X7.
BIG BREAKING: One Of The Veterans Who Was Quoted By @ANI as having denied endorsing the letter says ANI misquoted him and he is ‘amazed’ at their behavior. Other veterans describing ANI’s behaviour as ‘skullduggery’ and ‘tricks’ pic.twitter.com/qS3NFEAJVh
— NewsCentral24x7 (@nc24x7) April 13, 2019
While talking to Firstpost, Air Chief Marshal Suri who had denied signing the letter, while speaking of the tweeted email exchange between him and Maj Chowdhary, he said that he did talk about the nonpartisan position of the army, adding that he endorses the appeal to the Supreme Commander “in this context”. However, he maintained that while he endorses the fact that armed forces are apolitical, he did not endorse the contents of the letter. He also said that this seemed like a “misunderstanding of messages” and not “a deliberate act”.
However, Lt General Gurmit Singh(Retired) confirmed that the letter to the president does exist and many signatories have confirmed writing the same.
Letter to President by Veterans : spoke to few Senior Officers. Such Letter/Email to the President do exist. And I believe that Indian Army, Instrument of Last Resort, should always be Apolitical. Political parties should not use Forces for benefits..#presidentramnathkovind
— LT GENERAL GURMIT SINGH (Retd) (@LtGenGurmit) April 12, 2019
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