Modi slams Rajiv’s 1987 ‘holiday’ on naval ship

Published : May 14, 2019 07:30 am | By: Anjali Chhabra

Modi slams Rajiv’s 1987 ‘holiday’ on naval ship


With stakes rising in the Lok Sabha polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has upped the ante against the Congress by targeting late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for his “holiday” on a naval ship in 1987 and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Just when the Congress was preparing to enter the last phase of the Lok Sabha polls on an aggressive note against the ruling BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unleashed a war over late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s alleged misuse of a naval carrier for personal use in 1987.

The move came as a counter to the Rahul’s oft-repeated allegation against Modi and BJP Amit Shah of misusing the name of the military to garner votes.

The Congress was quick to counter Modi’s unexpected assault on Rajiv's “holiday’ by accusing Modi of misusing IAF planes and called him a “serial liar”. But even a clarification by top Navy officers in favour of Rajiv failed to blow away Modi’s serious charge related to Rajiv Gandhi's visit to Naval warship INS Viraat.

The Prime Minister claimed that the Navy was made to host the Gandhi family and Rajiv Gandhi's in-laws, and a helicopter was also deployed in their service. He also  pointed out that the country’s security was put at stake as a family became supreme.

Modi’s well-calculated move to influence voters with allegation that Rajiv Gandhi used INS Viraat as a “personal taxi” very nearly silenced the Congress leaders who had been questioning the BJP’s strategy to highlight the valour of the armed forces during campaign. It also succeeded in diverting attention from Rahul’s “chowkidar chor hai” barb against the PM over the Rafale deal.

As intended, the Prime Minister’s allegations on the Lakshwadeep “holiday” of Rajiv raised doubts in the minds of voters over the alleged impropriety done under the then Congress government and once again brought into focus the issue of the Gandhi family’s influence over the government.

The slugfest over INS Viraat took a new twist with former Navy Chief Admiral (Retd.) L. Ramdas rejecting Modi’s allegation against Rajiv and the Congress calling Modi a “serial liar”.

Objecting to the personal attack  on Rajiv by Modi and calling it a “new low” in public discourse, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the Late Prime Minister should not be attacked as he is not there to defend himself.

“That person (Rajiv Gandhi) is not alive. His death was painful. Two individuals — Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi — from the Gandhi family became Prime Minister and were killed,” he said, reflecting his compulsions to side with the Congress on an emotional issue that has risen in the backdrop of expected fractured mandate in the Lok Sabha results on May 23.

“And after such a big sacrifice, it does not behove (the Prime Minister) to use such a language about the person,” Pawar said.

Despite criticism that it has raked up a matter related to a dead man, the BJP has stuck to its charge against Rajiv and shown the killer instinct to win the crucial Lok Sabha polls by showing its resolve to deliver the fatal blow to its rival.

Mindful of the possible sympathy that the Congress could stir up over the political attacks on Rajiv, the BJP tried to soften the blow on the rival party by fielding Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to partially praise the assassinated Prime Minister’s sacrifice.

Sitharaman described Rajiv as a martyr and claimed that she respects him, but in the same breath she said that they have a right to question the decisions of the Rajiv Gandhi government.

“The clear misuse of the Army, Navy and Air Force by the Congress is well known but now they’re (Congress) shedding crocodile tears asking whether Prime Minister Modi is misusing the name of the military,” Sitharaman said, claiming that the PM’s charge on misuse of INS Viraat have been confirmed by a former Navy officer who is now serving in the defence ministry.

The political divide over the controversy was also out into the open with former Naval officers making counter claims on Rajiv’s “holiday”.

Admiral (Retd.) Ramdas asserted “no ships were specifically diverted for 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”.

However, another former Navy Commander (Retd) V K Jaitly tweeted, “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 at that time.”

The slugfest over INS Viraat assumes significance as the episode has the potential to influence the outcome on 118 Lok Sabha seats in the last two phases. 

With his naval ship attack, Modi managed to draw the attention of voters towards his oft-repeated dominance of the Gandhi family in Indian polity.  He ensured that the narrative in the campaign remains confined to nationalism and security forces, despite the rival parties’ desperate attempts to kick up dirt over jobs, DeMo and farm distress.   

The Prime Minister was punishing in his criticism of the Rajiv Gandhi regime for insulting the Navy by using its ship for personal use.

“INS Viraat was insulted… as Rajiv Gandhi and his family was out for a 10-day vacation. INS Viraat was deployed for securing our maritime boundary. But it was diverted to take the Gandhi family which was out for a vacation,” said the Prime Minister.

Coupled with the stepped up attack on INS Viraat, BJP strategists also started giving a major push to target the Sikh voters by raking up the anti-Sikh riots that took place under the government of Rajiv Gandhi in 1984.

A self-goal by Congress leader Sam Pitroda by making an insensitive comment on the 1984 riots, “So what, it happened.”

Modi who was already gunning for Rajiv over INS Viraat latched onto Pitroda’s riot comment and underscored the fact that it showed the “character and arrogance” of the Congress.

Under BJP chief Amit Shah’s stewardship, the BJP turned up the heat on the Congress by saying that the language used by Pitroda is comparable only to the “insensitive, inhuman” remark made by Rajiv who, in the aftermath of the 1984 “genocide”, said that “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes”.  

Alleging that the Congress got people massacred for selfish reasons, the BJP demanded that Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi should apologise to the Sikh community “with folded hands” for 1984 riots and sack Pitroda.

Keeping up its attacks on Rajiv Gandhi, the BJP accused him of dictating the 1984 genocide that killed around 10,000 people of the community and cited the Nanavati Commission.

The tactical move by Modi and Shah to target Rajiv, and not Rahul, in the battle of wits during the Lok Sabha polls has ensured that they do not run into defamatory controversy. Legally speaking, an allegation or imputation does amount to defamation against a dead person but the Congress has slammed the decay in political narrative with Modi’s attacks on a former Prime Minister who was assassinated.   

Even though the BJP leaders have been hitting out at Rajiv, its impact his being felt by Rahul and his party. This strategy has also ensured that the Congress is caught unawares and is forced to follow the agenda set by the BJP. The front opened against Rajiv by Modi has stifled the chant of “Chowkidar Chor hai” and drowned Congress attacks on his government for now, giving the saffron party a marginal edge in its pursuit to storm back to power for a back-to-back term at the Centre.

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