Defence PRO deletes tweet on iftar hosted by Army in J&K after ‘criticism’

The defence ministry’s public relations officer (PRO) in Jammu allegedly deleted a tweet highlighting the Indian Army’s secular tradition of holding an iftar party in Jammu and Kashmir’s Doda, after the post came under attack from the editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News.

On April 21, the PRO tweeted photographs of an iftar held by the Army in Doda saying: “Keeping alive the traditions of secularism, an Iftaar was organised by the Indian Army at Arnora in Doda district”. The photographs showed the iftar gathering, the General Officer Commanding of the Delta Force of the Army’s Rashtriya Rifles interacting with local Muslims and a uniformed person offering namaz with civilians.

Later that day, Sudarshan News CMD and editor-in-chief, Suresh Chavhanke tweeted, “Ab ye bimari Bhartiya sena mein bhi ghuss gayi hai? Dukhad…” (Now this disease has spread even in the Indian Army? Sad). The comment drew widespread support from several Twitter users.

While there was no reaction from the Army or the defence PRO to Chavhanke’s remarks, the PRO defence (Jammu) deleted the original tweet highlighting the iftar. Lt Col Devender Anand, PRO defence (Jammu), declined to comment on the deletion of the tweet when contacted.

Reacting to the development, former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Command, Lt Gen Tej Sapru (retd), who commanded the Nagrota Corps under which Doda falls, expressed his dismay at the removal of the tweet. “There was nothing wrong in the tweet. It should have been vigorously defended. The Army holds iftar in the insurgency-prone area because reaching out to the local population is an integral part of fighting the militants. And the Muslims in this part of the J&K are more Indian than you or me. The Army would do the same thing for any other religion if there was strife in that area and which it was tackling. In fact, we do so in the northeast too by reaching out to the Christian population. This has nothing to do with religion or politics and it is purely an instrument to fight militancy by taking people along with you,” he said.

Retired officer Maj Gen Yash Mor too defended the original tweet. “Indian Army has been at the forefront of interfaith harmony. We as officer’s take pride in the fact that we have NO religion, we just adopt the religion of the troops we command,” he tweeted.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Lt Gen H S Panag (retd), former GOC-in-C, Northern Command, said failure to defend the original tweet and then deleting it in the face of criticism was “cowardice”. “The concerned PRO and the Army should have had the guts to defend the tradition of holding iftar during Ramzan. There is nothing wrong in it. This is part of the Army’s policy to win the hearts and minds of the local population. We run Army Goodwill Schools for the local population too and all these measures are meant to take the local population along as we fight a foreign-sponsored militancy. And the locals appreciate these efforts. In any case, there is nothing new in holding an iftar in J&K and this has been a practice for many years,” he said.

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