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Navymen Reject PM’s Claim that Rajiv Used Viraat as a ‘Personal Taxi’

Photo Credit: India Today

Staff Correspondent

Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha (Retd) who commanded INS Viraat when the Gandhis were on board for a visit to Lakshadweep’s Bangaram Atoll called PM Modi’s statement “incorrect”, saying the deceased PM’s family was on-board for official purposes. He also rejected reports that foreigners and other friends were also present on the aircraft carrier, saying only the Gandhi family was present. Former navy chief, Admiral L. Ramdas too issued a detailed statement about the proceedings and movements of Rajiv and his family’s visit to Lakshadweep that contradicts PM Modi’s charges.

He further said that such events do take place and added that during his Hong Kong visit, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru too had his grandchildren and children on board. The retired Vice Admiral also said that the chopper was used just by Sonia and Rajiv but not by Rahul Gandhi. Addressing a rally in Delhi PM Modi had accused former PM Rajiv Gandhi of using INS Viraat as his “personal taxi.” “At the time when INS Viraat was positioned for protection of India’s maritime boundaries, it was sent to take Rajiv Gandhi and his family to an island for their holiday.  Even his in-laws were onboard INS Viraat. Was it not a compromise of national security?” asked PM Modi.

Speaking to Fauji India, Pasricha, then a Captain as the Commanding Officer of the INS Virat said, “There was nothing unofficial. He visited the ship for two and a half to three days. And there were four or five people on board, that’s all. There were also no foreigners or (actors like) Amitabh Bachchan on board. Neither was there any party organised either on the ship or ashore.”

The PM also said that even Navy personnel were put on service of Rajiv Gandhi and his family while they were vacationing at the island. As per the sources, it was due protocol given to Rajeev Gandhi since he was the Prime Minister and various CMs too have come on board various Indian Naval ships along with their family members and stayed. Some years ago Andhra Pradesh CM N. Chandra Babu Naidu too visited on board an Indian Navy vessel along the Eastern coast. His family was there too and as per protocol, security arrangements were made since he was the CM.

Former Navy Chief, Admiral L. Ramdas, too denied allegations about special privileges being extended to the Gandhi family in a media statement. “No ships were specially diverted for the personal use of the Gandhi family. Only one small helicopter was left at Kavratti (one of the islands) to meet any emergency medical requirements of the PM and his wife. I am drawing on written responses from Vice Admiral Pasricha, Admiral Arun Prakash – then commanding INS Vindhyagiri, which was accompanying INS Viraat, and Vice Admiral Madanjit Singh, commanding officer of INS Ganga. I am also referring to a note from an officer who was then the Naval Officer-in-Charge of Lakshadweep islands,” he said.

“The Prime Minister was at Trivandrum as chief guest for the National Games prize distribution. He was going to Lakshadweep on official duty, to chair a meeting of IDA (Islands Development Authority). This meeting is held alternately in Lakshadweep and in (the) Andamans, as Flag officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command, based in Cochin, also boarded INS Viraat. Four other ships were with INS Viraat as part of Fleet Exercises. As FoC-in-C, I hosted a dinner for them on board INS Viraat. There were no other parties held on board INS Viraat or for that matter any other ship in our fleet during that time on short trips by helicopter to meet local officials, as also the people there. (The) PM is authorised to travel along with his spouse by service aircraft on official duties.”

“From what I know only Rajiv and Sonia went ashore by helicopter and Rahul never accompanied them. During his visit to Bangaram on the last day, a few naval divers had been sent ashore for the PM’s safety. These meetings and functions were in December 1987. The Western Fleet had planned its naval exercises with the aircraft carrier much in advance in the yearly exercise programme to be held in that part of the Arabian Sea. This was an opportunity for the officers and men to interact with their PM. He addressed the men, had ‘bada khana’ as per naval custom,” Ramdas’s statement adds.

Speaking at a press interaction, Ramdas added. “I then hosted a dinner for the Prime Minister that night. And there is a photograph to confirm this.” In response to reporters’ questions whether there were any people from Italy on board INS Viraat, Ramdas snapped: “Laddu the, Laddu, Laddu jaante ho? Pede the. Aur kuchh nahin tha. (There were laddus, do you know laddus? There were pede (another sweet). Nothing else.”