The Ministry of Defence spokesperson on Friday apologised for an “inadvertent” tweet in response to a former chief of the Indian Navy, criticising the use of government vehicles by defence officials. The tweet was deleted, but screenshots have upset several former defence officials on Twitter.

Later on Friday, the ministry said the spokesperson has gone on leave and Colonel Aman Anand took over as the acting official spokesperson.

The controversy broke out after the spokesperson wrote the tweet as a reply to a post by former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash. On Wednesday, Prakash had retweeted a photograph showing an official car with a flag on the bonnet and a sign saying “IFA (WC)” – Internal Financial Adviser to the Western Command of the Army. Prakash wrote: “Even if misuse of an Army Command’s insignia by a civilian is not a cognizable offence, the person needs to be reprimanded by the GOCinC whose ‘financial adviser’ he is.”

The ministry spokesperson replied on Friday morning, according to screenshots: “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 gaadis (military vehicles)? Not to forget Madam’s shopping expedition on government vehicles. And endless parties...who pays for that?”

An hour later, the spokesperson tweeted: “The tweet was inadvertently done and the same is deeply regretted please.”

The principal spokesperson of the ministry is Swaranashree Rao Rajashekar, who was appointed by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in January. It is not clear who wrote the tweets.

“Is this inadvertent,” asked Retired Major General Harsha Kakar. “It shows the true colours of your MoD Madam [Nirmala Sitharaman]. You are meant to protect the military, not insult it. Keeping this spokesperson is an insult to India, its armed forces and their sacrifices. It shows no respect for senior veterans. Your spokesperson is a disaster.”