A massive controversy has broken out after Prime Minister Modi raked up Rajiv Gandhi infamous holiday in Lakshwadeep, at a remote, uninhabited island called Bangaram. The charge is that Rajiv Gandhi, along with his wife Sonia Gandhi, kids and others used INS Viraat for his personal use as a ‘taxi’ for his vacation.
India Today had covered the story exclusive back in 1988, Anita Pratap writes, “The island had been chosen with care: it is the only one in the strategic archipelago on which foreigners are not banned. It is also the exception in the group of islands in that prohibition is not in force”. The story categorically states that there were foreigners and Sonia Gandhi’s Italian relatives present onboard INS Viraat.
The Gandhis were accompanied by their personal cook. The India Today story says, “A consignment of wines and liquor was also brought in from the capital. A poultry farm with 100 chickens was set up in Agatti. Apart from sugar and freshly – caught fish, island fruits like the Lakshadweep papaya, sapota, small yellow bananas, and guavas were sent. Butter and some 100 loaves of bread were despatched from Kavaratti and from Cochin came Cadbury’s chocolates, 40 crates of cold drinks, 300 bottles of mineral water, Amul Cheese, cashew-nuts, sweet lime, condiments, 20 kg of flour, 105 kg of basmati rice, and fresh vegetables. The first consignment of non – perishable items was moved to Bangaram by ship on December 23. The second arrived three days later and replenishments came on January 1”.
The story goes on to say, “Questionable actions were, however, in evidence. India’s premier warship, INS Virat, was used to transport the Gandhis and moved in the Arabian Sea for 10 days. Its daily expenditure at sea is astronomical as the Virat travels with an entire retinue of escort ships. A submarine was also reported to be in attendance and some defence experts questioned the justification of depriving the navy of its most effective fighting component merely to suit Rajiv’s holiday plans. The considerable expense was also incurred in setting up a special satellite link up at Agatti for the duration of the holiday”.
Interestingly, at that time, the story was never questioned or contradicted. Speaking to India Today, the reporter who broke the story, Anita Pratap, said that she would not have written about it had she thought there was no impropriety.
Several other testimonies have come to the fore that corroborate the story today, though, several others have also surfaced that rubbish the story and raise questions on it.
Indian Express had reported in 1988 that at least eight foreigners joined the Prime Minister and his family during their New Year holiday here. It was reported that the group consisted of 24 men, women and children. Looking after their needs were 70 persons from various departments, cooks and valets and naval personnel. Nearly 1,200 policemen drawn from Lakshadweep Police and Madhya Pradesh Armed Special Police, based at neighbouring Agatti island, were on patrol on the periphery of Bangaram.
The drain on the resources was evident from the fact that according to Indian Express, innumerable boats of the local administration, including 40 hp high-speed boats, and the Navy’s yachting boats were pressed into service. The Navy also provided a windsurfer for the holidaymakers.
After PM Modi opened Pandora’s box, several people came forward to testify that the holiday did indeed take place. Commander VK Jaitly (Retd.) who was posted on the INS Viraat and says he was witness to Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi “using INS Viraat for travel to celebrate their holidays at Bangaram island.
#LIVE on #INSViraatCharge | Commander VK Jaitly (Retd.) who was posted on the INS Viraat and says he was witness to Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi “using INS Viraat for travel to celebrate their holidays at Bangaram island” is on air on Republic TV. Watch – https://t.co/LGCyJUEBn5 pic.twitter.com/D7d8Kwpwvp
— Republic (@republic) May 9, 2019
Commander VK Jaitley also testified that a lot of resources were used for the holiday and routinely so and that the Navy staff were used as personal staff for the Gandhis during these vacations.
Former Naval Commander, Harinder Sikka, also made sensational claims after the controversy broke out. He said that the 1987 vacation of Rajiv Gandhi using INS Viraat was not a one off. In fact, he had been doing it consistently since 1985 every year using Naval warships. Says that ship logs will prove everything.
Former Naval Commander, Harinder Sikka, makes a sensational claim – that the 1987 vacation of Rajiv Gandhi using INS Viraat was not a one off. In fact, he had been doing it consistently since 1985 every year using Naval warships. Says that ship logs will prove everything. pic.twitter.com/RND2Prk6H7
— Chowkidar Akhilesh Mishra (@amishra77) May 9, 2019
The claim is rather sensational. Saying that the Rajiv Gandhi holiday wasn’t one off and that Sonia Gandhi used these ships since 1985 for regular holidays is an indication that India’s national security might have been severely compromised. Navy warships generally go out to sea on specific excercises, accompanied by several other ships, boats, submarine and resources. That the Gandhi family used to divert resources regularly for personal use is a concern that should not be glossed over.
INS crew member, retired Commander VK Jaitley had explain, while talking to Republic the expense to the country’s exchequer when Rajiv Gandhi or his family would have used Naval resources for personal use, especially, while travelling on INS Viraat for personal vacation.
#INSViraatcharge | INS Viraat does not sail alone, so there were 4-5 ships were in and around Bangaram. Thousands of crores Rupees must have spent for that vacation: VK Jaitley- Retd Commander, INS Viraat Crew Member pic.twitter.com/cXlXFMEi8n
— Republic (@republic) May 9, 2019
There are other testimomies that contradict the story completely. Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha said that the contents of the story are completely incorrect and that the INS Viraat was there in Lakshwadeep only for 2 and a half days and not 10 days. Former Lakshwadeep administrator said that Rajiv Gandhi was on an official visit and the INS Viraat was not used for vacationing.
However, the evidence that points towards the fact that, in fact, Rajiv Gandhi did use the INS Viraat for vacationing is true. The news reports have eminated from 1980s itself.
Veteran political cartoonist RK Laxman had also captured Rajiv Gandhi ‘Viraat’ fiasco in his cartoons at the time.
The tradition of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has also been of misusing resources of the Navy. We had reported how the tradition was started by Jawaharlal Nehru who had vacationed using INS Delhi and used Countess Edwina Mountbatten died in 1960, and was buried at sea by Lord Mountbatten in accordance with her wishes, Nehru sent the Indian Navy frigate INS Trishul as an escort and had a wreath cast in her memory.
In fact, from the official Madhya Pradesh archives, we reported that once, when Nehru was visiting Bhopal, the Rajya Bhavan staff had realised that he had forgotten to carry his favourite cigarette brand ‘555’. Nehru reportedly had a habit of smoking after his meals. The Rajya Bhavan staff sent a plane to Indore to pick up the packs of smoke and transport to Bhopal. The packs of ‘555’ were kept ready for Nehru at the Indore airport.