Former Navy Officer tells how INS Viraat was misused by ex-PM and Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi

INS Viraat, the Aircraft Carrier, which was used by Rajiv Gandhi as a taxi for family vacation in the Lakshadweep islands. Late Rajiv Gandhi is former Prime Minister of India and Congress leader. (File Photo)
INS Viraat, the Aircraft Carrier, which was used by Rajiv Gandhi as a taxi for family vacation in the Lakshadweep islands. Late Rajiv Gandhi is former Prime Minister of India and Congress leader. (File Photo)

INS Viraat has been in the news since 8th May, 2019 when PM Modi retaliated to the repeated charges of “Chowkidar Chor Hai” by Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Modi made a scathing attack on the dynasty during his rally at Delhi by saying that former Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi ji and Sonia Gandhi ji used INS Viraat as a Taxi to go to Lakshadweep islands for their holidays with some Indian and foreigner friends. He probably also mentioned about the use of a helicopter as well.

The immediate reaction by some Admirals was that it was a lie and nothing of that sort happened. I was stunned by the immediate reaction denouncing Modi. But then I knew that at least one of them has been very vocal in criticising Modi time and again since Modi ji was elected as the PM of India. He has issued a number of open letters to media and the President criticising Modi government, may be at the instance of some parties that believe in anarchy in the country.

Now looking at this type of response by my respected Admirals for the most honest, hardworking, daring to be decisive to combat terrorism and globally admired PM of India, I couldn’t control myself. I was the witness to some of the activities at that time. I was a young Lieutenant posted on INS Viraat since its Day 1 even prior to commissioning of the ship when it was still HMS Hermes with Royal Navy at Devonport Dockyard at Plymouth, UK. I loved this great ship from Day 1 and was posted there for more than three years. Though I have been a very reluctant Twitter user, I decided to tweet on 9th May, 2019.
My tweet was:   

“Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi used INS Viraat for travel to celebrate their holidays at Bangaram island. Indian Navy resources were used extensively. I am a witness. I was posted on INS Viraat that time”. —- Commander VK Jaitly

Within no time, my tweet became viral and I started getting congratulatory replies from hundreds of twitter users and my message was retweeted by thousands and seen by lakhs. The TV channels were after me to get to know more and more from me. I think all the important national TV channels except the hard-core anti-Modi television channels covered my statement.

Here I was, the retired Commander who had contradicted the statements of a few respected Admirals for whom I always had great respect and admiration. And let me affirm that I shall continue to do that as that is my upbringing in the Navy, before joining the Navy and even after the Navy life. My respect for them will never reduce. But it does surprise me; to whom were they trying to benefit by immediately coming to the rescue of Rajiv Gandhi?

After my tweet and statements on TV channels, their statement changed a bit that it was an official trip and everything was done as per protocol. Now this is a very vague statement. Can they also give the details of what all was done as per protocol? How many ships remained on duty for about 10 days as per protocol? What all preparations started about a month or two in advance before the actual event? How many helicopter sorties were done to survey the area where the Royal Guests were to stay and during those 10 days? What all changes were done on INS Viraat to host the Royal Couple? How many Naval Officers and Sailors were on duty during these 10 days on those five or six ships? INS Viraat alone had 1500 plus officers and sailors on board. How many Officers were on Liaisoning duties? How many sailors were on special duties other than their routine duties? How many crores of rupees were spent for this 10 days’ holiday trip of the Royal Couple and their entourage? If calculated, this may turn out to be the most expensive holiday by any head of the state of any country?

Admiral L. Ramdas PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VSM issued a detailed statement. As per para 1: Prime Minister and Mrs Gandhi were embarked on board INS Viraat off Trivandrum enroute Lakshwadeep. The Prime Minister was at Trivandrum as chief guest for the National Games prize distribution. He was going to Lakshadweep on official duty, to Chair a meeting of IDA (Islands Development Authority). This meeting is held alternately in Lakshadweep and in Andamans.

Then in para 3, he states: They did, of course visit some of the Islands on short trips by helicopter to meet local officials, as also the people there. (PM is authorised to travel along with his spouse by service aircraft on official duties).

Now according to me, the use of Naval resources during holidays at Bangaram by Rajiv ji in 1987 may be legally correct as the private party was converted into an official visit through two programmes; one at Trivandrum and one at Kavaratti island. But ethically and morally it was WRONG. The Navy followed the orders and extended great hospitality to PM and his entourage.

Here I would like to draw the attention to the statement (Admiral Ramdas’) in bold in para 3 that PM is authorised to travel along with his spouse by service aircraft on official duties. My question here to the respected Admiral is that “Is PM authorised to travel along with his spouse by service AIRCRAFT CARRIER on official duties?” I think NO Sir. Passage on Aircraft Carrier for any VVIP is too expensive affair. And for a poor country like India, it is a criminal offence.

One young lady mentioned in her tweet that she had sailed on a Navy ship when her brother was posted there. Yes, ladies and children also sail on our warships once a year when we have a family day for the fleet. Immediate family members do sail with due permission to expose them to various exercises and operations of the Navy.

If someone still wishes to confirm that I am not exaggerating and the Admirals are not underplaying the massive use of Naval resources, there can be a scrutiny of the Log Books of all the ships and the helicopters that were deployed during those 10 days. I can also refer some young officers who were actually performing their duties. There will be many surprises. And if the costing is done for all these operations, it may turn out to be the costliest official duty for a couple of hours at two places by any VVIP in the world and may find a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

But for this great royal family of India, the response may be: “Hua to Hua” (if it happened then it happened)

I am trying to highlight all this so that such things do not happen again. Let the politicians and bureaucrats respect the defence forces. Let defence forces do their jobs independently without any interference. No politician of any stature should be allowed to exploit the resources of any of the defence forces; in fact, any of the government departments including PSUs. Let there be a cultural change in the country for austerity measures.

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