“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… ”, he says in an open letter.
A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed in an election speech that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi used aircraft carrier INS Viraat for a personal holiday in 1987 along with his family, then brass of the Navy and the warship on Thursday denied the comment, stating that Rajiv Gandhi was onboard an official trip enroute to Lakshadweep.
“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,” former Navy Chief, Admiral (retd.) L. Ramdas, said in an open letter.
Adm. Ramdas also pointed to written responses from Vice Admiral (retd.) Pasricha, then Captain and commanding officer of INS Viraat; Admiral (retd.) Arun Prakash, then Commanding INS Vindhyagiri that was accompanying INS Viraat; and Vice Admiral (retd.) Madanjit Singh, then commanding officer of INS Ganga.
He stated that Rajiv Gandhi and Mrs. Gandhi were embarked onboard INS Viraat off Thiruvananthapuram enroute to Lakshwadeep. Rajiv Gandhi was in Thiruvananthapuram as the chief guest of the National Games prize distribution.
Island visits by helicopter
Rajiv Gandhi and Mrs. Gandhi visited some of the islands on short trips by helicopter to meet local officials, as also the people there which the Prime Minister was authorised to, Adm. Ramdas said. “From what I know only Rajiv and Sonia went ashore by helicopter and Rahul never accompanied them,” he observed.
On the last day of the visit to Bangaram island, a few naval divers were sent ashore for the Prime Minister’s safety, he said.
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 in the yearly 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,” Adm. Ramdas added.