The defence ministry’s public relations officer in Jammu on Saturday deleted a tweet highlighting the force’s secular traditions allegedly after it was criticised by Sudarshan News Editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke, reported fact-checking website Boom.

The PRO Jammu handle had on April 21 tweeted pictures of an iftar organised by the Indian Army for Muslims in Doda district. Iftar is an evening meal eaten by members of the community after dusk to break their fasts during Ramazan. In the photos, Army officials could be seen sharing a meal with the residents.

“Keeping alive the traditions of secularism, an iftar was organised by the Indian Army at Arnora in Doda district,” the Army had tweeted.

In response to the tweet, Chavhanke wrote: “Now this disease has spread even in the Indian Army? Sad.”

Several social media users had reported Chavhanke’s tweet for hateful content, according to Boom, but Twitter responded that the post did not violate its safety norms.

Social media users as well as defence personnel have criticised the Indian Army’s decision to delete the tweet.

Former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Northern Command Lieutenant General (retired) HS Panag told The Indian Express that the failure to defend the tweet and deleting it was cowardice.

“The concerned PRO and the Army should have had the guts to defend the tradition of holding iftar during Ramzan,” Panag told the newspaper. “There is nothing wrong in it. This is part of the Army’s policy to win the hearts and minds of the local population.”

The officer pointed out that holding iftar in Jammu and Kashmir has been an old practice.

“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,” he added. “And the locals appreciate these efforts.”

Major General Yash Mor (retired) said that the 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.

Former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Command Lieutenant General (retired) also said that the Army should have defended the tweet.

“The Army holds iftar in the insurgency-prone area because reaching out to the local population is an integral part of fighting the militants,” he said. “And the Muslims in this part of the J&K are more Indian than you or me.”

The officer said that the Army would hold take similar actions in others areas for other religion

“In fact, we do so in the Northeast too by reaching out to the Christian population,” he added. “This has nothing to do with religion or politics and it is purely an instrument to fight militancy by taking people along with you.”

Chavhanke has earlier too spoken out against Muslims.

One of the videos of a religious conclave held in Delhi in December had shown Chavhanke administering an oath to the attendees to “die for and kill” to make India a “Hindu Rashtra”, or Hindu nation.

More recently in April, Chavhanke was one of the speakers at a Hindu mahapanchayat during which seven journalists were heckled and attacked by those attending the event in Delhi’s Burari area.

Four of the five journalists who were escorted away by the police were Muslims and were targeted allegedly after being asked their religious identity.

In August 2020, the editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News had claimed that that the number of Muslims appearing for and clearing the Union Public Service Exams had suddenly risen. He had dubbed it as “UPSC jihad”.

“How has the number of Muslim IPS [Indian Police Service] and IAS [Indian Administrative Service] officers increased recently?” he had asked the viewers of his television show. “What will happen if ‘Jamia ke jihadi’ rise to positions of authority in the country?”