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As Rahul Gandhi mouths off platitudes over Air India One, here is a throwback to the time his father used INS Viraat as a personal yacht

India's former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had reportedly used India's lone aircraft carrier INS Viraat in 1987 for his family and companions' vactionioning in Lakshadweep Island

After being mocked and incessantly trolled for using a cushioned seat on a tractor, the former Congress President Rahul Gandhi took aim at the Prime Minister over two custom-made aeroplanes that the govt of India has acquired for VVIP travel. Taking a swipe at PM Modi, Gandhi said that the Prime Minister’s ‘Air India One’ did not just have a cushion but a whole lot of luxury beds for his comfort and accused him of “wasting” thousands of crores of rupees on the plane just because “his friend Donald Trump has one.”

Rahul Gandhi attacked Modi over the planes ignoring the fact that the planes were ordered by the UPA govt, and the current govt merely completed the process. Gandhi’s riposte came after the government attacked the Wayanad MP for sitting on a cushioned seat on a tractor while participating in his “Kheti Bachao Yatra” in Punjab against the recently passed Farm Bills. Questioning the wisdom of spending such a huge amount of money when “China at our borders” and the government is stockpiling ammunition, ration, equipment and other necessary items along the Indo-China border, Gandhi stated that PM Modi wanted the luxurious plane because “his friend Donald Trump has one”.

Acquisition of aircraft was initiated during the UPA regime

However, soon after Rahul Gandhi took a dig at PM Modi for procuring the new custom-made Boeing aeroplanes, the BJP government slammed the Gandhi scion, saying that the process of procurement of the VIP aircraft had begun around a decade ago when the UPA government was in power under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi’s mother, Sonia Gandhi. Moreover, the planes belong to the Indian Air Force and not the Prime Minister.

The process of acquisition of the two new aircraft started in 2011 under the UPA-II regime when upon the direction of Group of Ministers (GOM), a meeting of Committee of Secretaries (CoS) was organised in which it was determined that an Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) would evaluate the available options for long term arrangement of VVIP aircraft. The IMG met about 10 times and submitted two recommendations in 2012—convert an existing B777 ER or use one of the new ones that were ordered by Air India but yet to be delivered.

The govt finally decided to use two planes from the planes ordered for Air India by the UPA govt. It may be the UPA govt had ordered much more aircraft than what was needed by Air India, causing it the financial mess the national carrier is currently it. Two planes from these excess planes, from the planes which were yet to be delivered by Boeing, were repurposed as VVIP aircraft and necessary modification and customisation for the same were ordered by the government.

Air India had ordered for 68 aircraft from Boeing in 2005, 15 of which were B777-300 ER aircraft. In 2017, by when the carrier had taken delivery of 12 777s, it was decided that two aircraft from the remaining three will be used as Air India One for VVIP travel after necessary customisation. Therefore, the govt had actually bought the planes from Air India, which had already bought it from Boeing. Even if those aircraft were not customised VVIP jets, Air India still would have to pay for the cost of the planes as standard commercial jets.

But one can expect Rahul Gandhi to remain ignorant of such details to have made an attack against the Prime Minister on acquiring aircraft whose acquisition was initiated by the Congress-led coalition at the centre. What’s more? It’s a bit rich coming from someone whose father, Rajiv Gandhi, had used INS Viraat as his personal taxi.

Rajiv Gandhi used INS Viraat as his personal taxi

In an exclusive story covered by India Today in 1988, the author alleged that the former prime minister of India and Rahul Gandhi’s father, Rajiv Gandhi, used India’s aircraft carrier INS Viraat as his own personal yacht. The incident is from the time when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of the country and had gone on vacations to Lakshadweep Islands with his family members and friends.

This incident was raked up by PM Modi in the run-up to the 2019 General Elections, where he alleged that the Gandhi Family used India’s aircraft carrier INS Viraat as their personal boat and compromised India’s national security because their entertainment was of higher priority than the nation’s security.

INS Viraat was deployed for protection of maritime borders of the country, but that was sent for transporting the Gandhi family who was going for holidaying. After that, their entire group was carried to an island by INS Viraat, where it stayed for ten days. The holidaying group included Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi’s mother, her brother and a maternal uncle. Also present were then MP Amitabh Bachchan, his wife Jaya Bachchan and their two children, daughter of Amitabh’s brother Ajitabh, and former minister Arun Singh’s brother Bijendra Singh’s wife and daughter.

Not only was INS Viraat requisitioned for transporting the Gandhi family, but government employees and navy soldiers were also assigned the job of organising all the facilities for the vacation. A special helicopter of the army was deployed their service 24×7, the entire administration was looking after the arrangement of entertainment of the Gandhi family and their guests.

INS Viraat, the lone carrier of Indian navy at that time, was used to transport the Gandhi family and their companions, which moved in the Arabian sea for 10 days for this vacation. An aircraft carrier does not move alone in the sea, a carrier is the nerve centre of a carrier battle group and it is always surrounded by several warships. Even a submarine was also present during the trip. This means incurring huge expenditure. However, for the delectation of the Gandhi family and their guests, India’s security was compromised and massive outlays on public exchequer overlooked.

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