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Rajiv Gandhi boarded INS Viraat as PM, says ex-ship captain

Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha (retd), who was then the captain of INS Viraat, said Rajiv Gandhi boarded the warship in his capacity as the PM that December, spent two nights on board, and that no foreigners accompanied him.

india Updated: May 10, 2019 07:54 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
New Delhi
rajiv gandhi,INS Viraat,pm modi
INS Viraat, an aircraft carrier, was decommissioned two years ago.(Anshuman Poyrekar/HT FILE Photo)

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the late Rajiv Gandhi of misusing INS Viraat as his “personal taxi” during a vacation to Lakshadweep and hosting foreigners on board in 1987, the then skipper of the aircraft carrier on Thursday contradicted the claim stressing that the former PM embarked the vessel in his official capacity and there were no foreign nationals aboard.

On Thursday, the Congress addressed three press conferences during the day to challenge Modi’s allegations, citing statements of three former Navy Vice Admirals, who claimed that then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was on an official visit to Lakshadweep when he also visited INS Viraat, an aircraft carrier.

Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha (retd), who was then the captain of INS Viraat, said Rajiv Gandhi boarded the warship in his capacity as the PM that December, spent two nights on board, and that no foreigners accompanied him.

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At an election rally at Ramlila grounds here on Wednesday, Modi claimed the former PM used the carrier as a personal taxi during a 10-day holiday and his in-laws were with him.

Modi said, “The ship was on duty but was diverted to pick up the Gandhis. Rajiv Gandhi’s in-laws were also present. Should foreigners have been carried on an Indian warship? Wasn’t this playing with India’s security?”

Pasricha, who retired in 2002 as the Western Naval Command chief, asserted that none of the allegations were true. “Had foreigners boarded the carrier, I would have been court-martialled long ago. I don’t know why these things are being raked up now,” the 76-year-old said.

He said Rajiv Gandhi was accompanied by his wife Sonia, son Rahul and a couple of IAS officers. “We hosted a dinner for them in the wardroom so that the crew could meet the PM. The Gandhis did not have any parties on board. I find this controversy quite amusing,” he added.

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A top retired navy officer, familiar with Gandhi’s stay on the vessel, endorsed Pasricha’s version, adding that it was not uncommon for PMs and their spouses to board warships in their official capacity.

“It’s time we stop the politicization of the armed forces,” this person said on the condition of anonymity.

Pasricha said the Gandhis embarked the warship off Trivandrum in December-end 1987. He said a few naval divers were sent ashore for safety during their visit to Bangaram island as the then PM and his wife were planning to scuba dive for half hour. Former navy chief Admiral L Ramdas, who was then commanding the Cochin-based Southern Naval Command and was on board INS Viraat, said in a statement that no ships were diverted for the personal use of the Gandhi family.

Four other warships were with INS Viraat as part of a pre-scheduled fleet exercise, he said, adding that only a small helicopter was left at Kavaratti to meet any emergency medical requirements of the PM and his wife.

However, Commander VK Jaitly (retd), who was then a lieutenant and a weapons maintenance officer on the warship, said, “Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi used INS Viraat for travel to celebrate their holidays at Bangaram island. Indian Navy resources were used extensively. I am a witness. I was posted on INS Viraat that time.” He said preparations for the VVIP visit began a month in advance.

Reacting to the Viraat row, Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said this kind of disinformation was not new and Modi and his government hold a “Guinness record on lies and propaganda.” Citing a media report, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said on Twitter, “Distraction and fakery is your last resort. You have made Indian Air Force jets your own Taxi! You have paid as low as Rs 744 for using IAF jets for election trips!” ,

Taking a dig at Congress, union minister Arun Jaitley tweeted, “The ‘Kaamdars’ use India’s Naval assets to strike at terror. The ‘Naamdars’ use them for personal vacations with family and in-laws.”

BJP spokesperson Sanjay Mayukh said, “Is Jhoot ka jawab janta May 23 ko degi,” he said (the people will respond to these lies on May 23).

First Published: May 09, 2019 23:32 IST