New Delhi: Refuting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s allegation that Rajiv Gandhi and his family used INS Viraat as a “personal taxi” for a holiday, Vice Admiral (Retd) Vinod Pasricha said the then PM and his wife Sonia Gandhi were onboard the warship for an official two-day tour.
Pasricha, who was in-charge of INS Viraat during Rajiv Gandhi’s 1984-89 tenure as PM, said all protocols were followed at the time and that no foreigners or other guests were present. “Nobody was on a holiday. Only Rahul Gandhi was with his family. No foreigner was with the PM,” he said.
In his first election rally in Delhi on May 8, Modi had accused the Gandhi family of using INS Viraat as its "personal taxi", launching a fresh attack on the late Congress leader days after throwing the "bhrashtachari no 1" barb at him.
"Ever imagined that a premier warship of the Indian armed forces could be used as a taxi for a personal holiday? One dynasty did it," Modi said.
The Navy was made to host the Gandhi family and Rajiv Gandhi's in-laws, and a helicopter was also deployed in their service, Modi had claimed.
"INS Viraat was insulted by using it as a personal taxi. This happened when Rajiv Gandhi and his family was out for a 10-day vacation. INS Viraat was deployed for securing our maritime boundary. But it was diverted to take the Gandhi family which was out for a vacation," Modi said.
He also claimed that after picking up the Gandhi family, INS Viraat halted at an island for 10 days.
Reiterating Pasricha's views, former Navy chief Admiral L Ramdas said that no ships were "specially diverted" for the personal use of the Gandhi family, neither were there any foreigners.
Ramdas added that he also has a picture of that day. "The prime minister was at Trivandrum as a chief guest for National Games prize distribution. He was going to Lakshadweep on official duty to chair a meeting of Islands Development Authority. This meeting is held alternately in Lakshadweep and Andamans... I then hosted a dinner for the prime minister that night. And there is a photo to confirm this," he said in a statement.
Admiral Ramdas shared a picture of Rajiv Gandhi during their meeting in December 1987
Vice Admiral (Retd) I C Rao also termed Modi's "holiday" statement as 'untrue'. "Such statements are aimed at swaying the voters. I feel the voters should ignore such claims and exercise their right," Rao said.
Congress leaders, including its president Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, have hit out at Modi for his barb at their father.
Taking a swipe at Modi for the allegations on Thursday, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera reiterated Pasricha’s statement. "We are now hearing that Modi ji tells us that 30 years ago Rajiv Gandhi went for a holiday in INS Viraat. Prime Minister is a serial liar. A senior official has exposed his lies today. Vice Admiral (retd) Vinod Pasricha appeared on channels some time back and stated that this is a lie and the then PM was on an official visit and not on a holiday," he said.