A group of armed forces veterans has written to global media company Thomson Reuters about Indian news agency ANI’s attempts to “defame” their intentions behind an appeal against the politicisation of the military. Thomson Reuters shares an investor relationship and strategic partnership in editorial content with ANI.

“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 the letter on behalf of a group of retired officers of the armed forces.

ANI said the accusation that it manipulated quotes of veterans was baseless.

On April 12, more than 150 veterans of the Indian armed forces wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind urging him to stop the use of defence forces for political purposes in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. The signatories included eight former service chiefs.

On the same day, ANI quoted two signatories, former Army Chief General Sunith Francis Rodrigues and former Air Force Chief NC Suri, denying that they had signed the letter. The agency also quoted former Army Vice Chief Lieutenant General ML Naidu saying his consent was not taken for the letter.

On April 14, Naidu alleged that ANI had misquoted him, according to The Telegraph. Other veterans had said Naidu had on April 8 endorsed by email the letter to the President.

Chowdhury cited reports by The Wire and NewsCentral24x7, which said ANI had tried to discredit the appeal. NewsCentral24x7 had reported on April 16, quoting from a letter that Naidu wrote to retired Major General SG Vombatkere. Naidu had said in the letter: “Yesterday, I was informed by friends that I am being quoted by the visual media. Especially ANI. No one had contacted me. Finally, ANI called up in the afternoon and sent their team for ‘sound-bites’. I am attaching the same.”

Ishaan Prakash, editor of ANI live services, told Scroll.in that there were “vested interests working to discredit ANI”. “With regard to the veterans’ letter, ANI published voices endorsing and rejecting this letter,” he said. “All quotes were backed by video and audio, therefore the accusation that ANI manipulated any quote is baseless.”

In the letter to Thomson Reuters, Chowdhury said: “The context of this complaint is ANI’s recent reporting on our petition, signed by over 150 military veterans, and addressed to the President of India, to protest the appropriation of the armed forces into political campaigning.”

Chowdhury said “serious questions” had arisen about ANI’s “motives and practices in reporting the alleged denials by some senior officers that they had ever signed the letter”. “In our opinion, ANI’s conduct tantamounts to being perfidious with a view to influence the ongoing elections in India in a biased manner,” Chowdhury said.

In order to “plan further action”, Chowdhury asked how Thomson Reuters evaluates editorial practices of strategic partners, whether it examined the practices, political affiliations and reputation of ANI prior to expanding partnership in 2018 and whether it believes “ANI’s motivated misreporting of our genuine and Constitutional appeal meets its own standards for editorial propriety”.