News Frontliner Web Desk, 10 May 2019: The 2019 Indian General Election has been seeing an unprecedented spree of allegation and counter-allegation, many of which are aimed at gaining immediate political mileage at the cost of distorting truths.
A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an election speech claimed that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had used aircraft carrier INS Viraat for personal holiday in 1987 along with his family, the then top brass of the Navy on Thursday denied the comments, stating that the late Mr. Gandhi was on-board the vessel on an official trip en route to the Lakshadweep islands.
At a campaign rally on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Rajiv Gandhi and his family, including his in-laws from Italy, had used the aircraft carrier INS Viraat as a “personal taxi” on a private “10-day vacation” on an island.
Days before, he came under intense criticism over his comment that Rajiv Gandhi died as “Bhrashtachari (corrupt) number 1”.
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”. He added by saying, “This politicisation of the armed forces is wrong and unacceptable”.
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, Admiral Ramdas 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.
At a time when the social media is flooded with fake news, this type of allegation by the constitutional head of a country is bound to tarnish the image of the world’s largest democracy.