Ex-officers trash PM's Rajiv taunt

Addressing an election rally on Wednesday, Modi said the former prime minister used INS Viraat as a private taxi and his in-laws were onboard the aircraft carrier. (DH File Photo)

A former Commanding Officer of INS Viraat on Thursday punctured Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi used the aircraft carrier as a “personal taxi” to ferry family and friends for a vacation at Lakshadweep in 1987.

Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha (rtd) who was the skipper of INS Viraat, denied the presence of the then prime minister’s family on board the aircraft carrier, which was a new acquisition for the Navy then. Pasricha maintained that Rajiv Gandhi was on board for official purposes.

Congress seized on the statements of Pasricha to assert that Rajiv was on board INS Viraat for an official visit and not on vacation.

“But facts don’t matter to Modi,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, adding that the only intention behind Modi’s remarks was to vilify a former prime minister who is dead for 30 years.

Pasricha’s assertions were backed by former Navy Chief Admiral L Ramdas and bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah, who was the administrator of the island at that point of time.

“There were no parties held on INS Viraat or any of the other four warships accompanying the erstwhile aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy and no foreigners accompanied Rajiv Gandhi nor was current Congress president Rahul Gandhi present then,” Admiral Ramdas said.

The Congress also sought to know how the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Lakshadweep visit was relevant to the election discourse in 2019. “I am throwing a challenge, enlighten us in any which way the remotest relevance of this point except one to abuse and vilify for the sake of abuse and to vilify,” Singhvi said.

Stepping up the attack on Modi, the Congress also dug out an RTI response to accuse the Prime Minister of paying “as low as Rs 744” for using Air Force jets for election trips.

Congress spokesman Pawan Khera described Modi as a “serial liar” who lacked the courage to contest elections on issues such as unemployment and demonetisation.

Elaborating on Rajiv’s Lakshadweep visit, Habibullah, who was shifted as Lakshadweep from the Prime Minister’s Office in 1987, said INS Viraat was stationed near that archipelago as a back-up for the prime minister’s security. He said Rajiv was in Lakshadweep for a meeting of the Island Development Authority and later decided to stay back when the guests also joined him at Bangaram.

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