Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma today dismissed allegations of late premier Rajiv Gandhi using a naval warship to "vacation" in Lakshadweep, saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have done the same if he had a family.
"Any Prime Minister would do so but this Prime Minister has no family. If he had a family, then he would also be going there. But he goes alone because he has no connect with a family or any respect for family values," he told news agency ANI.
PM Modi had alleged that Rajiv Gandhi and his family had used the INS Viraat as a "personal taxi" for 10 days while they were vacationing at an island in Lakshadweep in the late eighties. "Ever imagined that a premier warship of the Indian armed forces could be used as a taxi for a personal holiday? This was when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister and he was going for a vacation for 10 days. The biggest family of the Congress used the warship as a personal taxi. Rajiv Gandhi was accompanied by his in-laws, who came from Italy," he said at an election rally in New Delhi on Wednesday.
The remark spurred widespread criticism, with politicians cutting across party lines condemning PM Modi's "repeated attempts to malign" his predecessor. Congress president Rahul Gandhi said that he did board INS Viraat with his father, but on an official trip and not a holiday. "Why would anyone holiday on an aircraft carrier? It's not a cruise ship!" he was quoted as saying in an interview.
Two retired naval officers strongly denied PM Modi's claim, saying that no foreign nationals boarded the aircraft carrier at the time. Vice Admiral Pasricha also dubbed the remark about PM Modi using the INS Viraat as a "personal taxi" as completely wrong.
Congress leader Divya Spandana cited an instance of PM Modi accompanying actor Akshay Kumar on board the INS Sumitra to claim that it was he who has been entertaining foreigners. The Bollywood star holds a Canadian passport and cannot vote.
PM Modi has targeted late Rajiv Gandhi on several occasions over the last two weeks, accusing him of being a "corrupt no. 1" and "orchestrating the 1984 anti-Sikh riots".
(With inputs from Agencies)