Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the Pandora’s box when he mentioned Rajiv Gandhi’s vacation in Lakshadweep when he and his family, and possibly others, were ferried around by India’s Naval carrier, INS Viraat. The two newspapers that had covered the story extensively were Indian Express and India Today. Now, Indian Express has published a harrowing tale of how vindictive Rajiv Gandhi shot back at the paper after the story was published.
Journalist Nirupama Subramanian has written a column in the Indian Express today recounting the coverage by the paper at the time of Rajiv Gandhi’s infamous holiday. In the column headlined, “By raking up INS Viraat, PM Modi has provided a reminder that we must ask questions to those who wield power”, Subramanian has also recounted that at the time, the question was not just of the INS Viraat standing by as Rajiv Gandhi and his entourage vacationed in Lakshadweep, but also, questions were raised about the need to take a year-end vacation and having expensive cabinet meetings at holiday spots.
She says an earlier report in the Indian Express read, “The system of year-end holidays and holding of Cabinet meetings in tourist resorts, something prevalent in the affluent West, emerged on the Indian scene only after Mr Gandhi became Prime Minister”.
Interestingly, the article also recounts how the Indian Express was hounded by Rajiv Gandhi and his government after reports about his vacation were published.
At the time, Indian Express had published a cartoon strip on the vacation. The cartoon was Rajiv sitting under a coconut tree on an island in the Arabian Sea, saying: “Ah! To get away from it all!” and India responding with a sigh and a question: “When?”
After this cartoon was published, Rajiv Gandhi and his government hit back at Indian Express. Months after the cartoon was published, Rajiv Gandhi tried to introduce the Anti Defamation Bill 1988 which was thwarted by the media collectively opposing the bill.
In July 1988, Gandhi had introduced a draconian bill. The defamation bill was a product of the prime minister’s desire to curb ‘criminal imputation’ and ‘scurrilous writings’. An unprecedented backlash by the Media had eventually forced Rajiv Gandhi to trash the bill.
Subramanian also says that after the cartoon was published in the Indian Express, there were several raids on the premises of Indian Express looking for evidence that they had evaded Customs Duty.
She writes, “For those of us present in the office that day, the manner in which hundreds of armed CRPF and Delhi police personnel took a position inside and outside the Delhi office seemed way out of proportion for a tax evasion raids”.