Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

Defence ministry spokesperson sent on leave after her controversial tweet

Swaranashree Rao Rajashekar on Friday posted a controversial comment on Twitter from her official handle that was seen as an insult by veterans of the armed forces

New Delhi: The spokesperson of the ministry of defence has been sent on leave after a tweet from the spokesperson’s official twitter handle that was seen as an insult by veterans of the armed forces and sparked outrage.

“Col. Aman Anand, took over as the acting Official Spokesperson of MOD ( Ministry of Defence) as the Spokesperson proceeds on leave," the defence ministry spokesperson’s handle tweeted late Friday.

Swaranashree Rao Rajashekar, an officer from the Defence Accounts Service cadre was appointed as defence ministry spokesperson by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Her official designation was Additional Director General (Media and Communications) and she was the principal spokesperson for the ministry.

On Friday, she posted a controversial comment on Twitter from her official handle that was seen as a response to a remark made by a highly regarded and decorated ex naval officer, former navy chief Arun Prakash.

Prakash had earlier this week commented on a Twitter post by a person who had objected to the use of an Indian Army flag on the bonnet of a car used by the Internal Financial Advisor appointed to the Western Command of the Army in Chandimandir in Haryana’s Panchkula district, on the same social media platform.

The financial officer being a civilian is not allowed to use the Indian defence forces’ flags on his vehicle, which is a privilege reserved exclusively for armed forces officers.

Responding to this, Prakash, a formal naval aviator had tweeted: “Even if misuse of an Army Command’s insignia by a civilian is not a cognisable offence, the person needs to be reprimanded".’

And in reaction to this, Rajshekhar posed a query from the defence ministry spokesperson’s official handle: “What about misuse of jawans in your residence during an officer’s tenure sir? And how about children being picked up and dropped to school in Fauji (military) gaadis (vehicles)? Not to forget Madam’s shopping expedition on government vehicles. And endless parties...who pays for that?"

This resulted in a volley of protests from retired officers online.

“This is indeed shameful for @SpokespersonMoD to tweet this to a former Service Chief," retired Air Vice Marshall Manmohan Bahadur said in a Twitter post.

“Is it allowed to be done under Official handle. It is dangerous to have such people to project us & our relationship with others," said another post by retired Lt General K.J. Singh.

Former Navy chief Prakash chose not to respond to the spokesperson’s reply and instead urged the ministry to “reflect" on the state of civil-military relations.

“Rather than getting excited over indiscreet tweet of @SpokespersonMoD I would suggest sober reflection; (a) by MoD on state of civil-mil (military) relations & (b) by Military Leadership on the aspersions cast by MoD civil-servant on personal conduct of Service officers.,’’ he said.

According to people familiar with the developments, the incident was another example of the gulf between the armed forces and the bureaucracy over privileges and ornaments of service.

“It is a very unfortunate thing, shows the mindset of our civilian bureaucracy towards our men and women in uniform," said one of the people cited above.