The former Commanding Officer of INS Viraat, the aircraft carrier that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi allegedly used as a personal taxi service, has categorically denied the allegations made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha, who commanded the Viraat in December, 1987, has denied reports that when the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi came on board the aircraft carrier, his friends and Italian mother-in-law were with him.
Rajiv Gandhi was visiting Lakshadweep on official work -- a meeting of the Island Development Authority -- not a family holiday. Accompanying him were his wife Sonia Gandhi, son Rahul Gandhi and a couple of IAS officers, Vice Admiral Pasricha told NDTV.
Denying that Amitabh Bachchan or Sonia Gandhi's parents were on the warship, as claimed by the Prime Minister, Vice Admiral Pasricha said, "Other than the people I told you about, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, his son and two IAS officials, there was no one else... This politicisation of the armed forces is wrong and unacceptable".
''We travelled from Trivandrum, where we had taken them onboard on helicopter because Trivandrum does not have a jetty to berth Viraat. On the islands, he (Rajiv Gandhi) had to go for a number of meetings. He visited three islands by helicopter and I think two or three islands on the second day by helicopter," Vice Admiral Pasricha said. ''He visited Bangaram island for about two hours on the morning of the second day (of his visit). And they had lunch there and then came back.''
Admiral L Ramdas, then Commander-in-chief of the Western Fleet who also on board at the time -- also gave a similar version of the events.
In a statement, referring to the Prime Minister's speech, he said it was presumably based on a report by Anita Pratap on India Today. "I would like to state unequivocally, that this was not the case," he said in the statement.
The statement, he said, was issued after collating email responses from former Admiral Arun Prakash, Vice Admiral Pasricha and Vice Admiral Madanjit Singh, all of whom were serving in the Western Fleet at the time.
The fleet was meeting with the aircraft carrier as part of naval exercises planned in advance. The Prime Minister's being on board gave the men a chance to meet them. he said.
"No ships were specifically diverted for the personal use of the Gandhi family. Only one small helicopter was left at Kavratti to meet any emergency medical requirements of the PM and his wife," the statement read.
About the visits on helicopters, Admiral Ramdas pointed out that the Prime Minister is authorised to travel along with his spouse on service helicopters while on official duty.
At yesterday's rally, PM Modi -- who has accused the Congress and other opposition parties of neglecting national security -- cited Rajiv Gandhi's use of the warship as an instance. Days before, he came under intense criticism over his comment that Rajiv Gandhi died as "Bhrashtachari (corrupt) number 1".
The Congress has accused PM Modi of making Indian Air Force jets his "own taxi" and paying "as low as Rs 744" for using IAF aircraft for election trips.
Citing a media report, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, "You (PM Modi) have made Indian Air Force jets your own Taxi. You have paid as low as Rs 744 for using IAF jets for election trips. Scared of your own sins haunting you, you are shamelessly pointing fingers on others".