Rajiv Gandhi was onboard INS Viraat on official visit: former Navy Chief Admiral Ramdas

“I, as Flag officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command also boarded INS Viraat. There were no other parties held on board INS Viraat,” Admiral L. Ramdas said in an open letter

Updated - May 10, 2019 03:56 pm IST

Published - May 09, 2019 06:04 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi taking the guard of honour on board INS Viraat. File photo.

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi taking the guard of honour on board INS Viraat. File photo.

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed in an election speech that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had used aircraft carrier INS Viraat for personal holiday in 1987 along with his family, the then top brass of the Navy on Thursday denied the comments, stating that the late Rajiv Gandhi was on-board the vessel on an official trip en route to the Lakshadweep islands.

“I would like to state unequivocally that this [allegation that Mr. Gandhi was on holiday with his family] was not the case,” former Navy Chief Admiral L. Ramdas said in a statement, with collated responses from other top officers of the Western Fleet at that time.

“There were no foreigners with them. I, as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C), 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,” he said.

Corroborated

The former officers quoted in the statement include Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha, then Captain and Commanding Officer (CO) of INS Viraat; former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash, then CO of INS Vindhyagiri, which was accompanying the carrier; and Vice Admiral Madanjit Singh, then CO of INS Ganga.

Adm. Ramdas stated that Rajiv Gandhi and Mrs. Gandhi had embarked on-board INS Viraat off Thiruvananthapuram, where the former PM had been the chief guest for the National Games prize distribution ceremony, and were en route to the Lakshwadeep islands. They visited some of the islands on short trips by helicopter to meet local officials there, which the Prime Minister is authorised to do, Adm. Ramdas pointed. “From what I know, only Rajiv and Sonia went ashore by helicopter and Rahul never accompanied them,” he observed.

‘Not diverted’

However, on the last day of the visit, when they went to Bangaram island, a few naval divers had been sent ashore for the PM’s safety, Adm. Ramdas said. Stating that no ships were “specially diverted for the personal use of the Gandhi family,” Adm. Ramdas said the Western Fleet had planned its Naval exercises with the aircraft carrier much in advance. “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,” he added.

Separately, Vice Admiral Pasricha, too, told the media that the claim was totally wrong, and all protocols had been followed.

Congress targeted

Speaking in Bhopal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman targeted the Congress on the issue. “What happened on INS Viraat is known to everyone and it is in the public domain. The clear misuse of the Army, Navy and Air Force by the Congress is well-known but now they [the Congress] are shedding crocodile tears asking whether PM Modi is misusing the name of the military,” she said.

However, when pointed out that a former Vice Admiral had denied that the warship was used by Mr. Gandhi’s family, Ms. Sitharaman said she was not aware of the former Vice Admiral’s statement.

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