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India’s Ruling and Opposition Parties in War of Words Over Gandhi 'Navy Holiday'

© AP PhotoPriyanka Vadra, daughter of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, receives a floral garland from supporters during an election campaign in her mother’s constituency of Rae Bareli, India, Wednesday, April 23, 2014.
Priyanka Vadra, daughter of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, receives a floral garland from supporters during an election campaign in her mother’s constituency of Rae Bareli, India, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. - Sputnik International
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Three decades after India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his Italy-born wife Sonia Gandhi apparently used the country’s naval assets for an alleged “family vacation”, India’s ruling party and the main opposition Congress Party are clashing over the matter.

New Delhi (Sputnik): The "alleged family holiday" in 1987 by Rajiv Gandhi, his Italian-born wife Sonia Gandhi and their children, using a naval aircraft carrier and an accompanying flotilla of ships and helicopters, is driving up tensions between the parties as they engage in a war of words. 

On Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used an election rally to claim that one of his predecessors and Congress leaders, in an oblique reference to Rajiv Gandhi, used the Indian Navy's INS Viraat aircraft carrier as his "personal taxi" to take his family on a 10-day holiday to India's Lakshadweep Island.

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"The ship was on duty but was diverted to pick up the Gandhis. Rajiv Gandhi's in-laws were also present. Should foreigners have been carried on an Indian warship? Wasn't this playing with India's security?," he added.

Interacting with foreign correspondents at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday commented on the matter. 

"Photographs of that event are in the public domain. If you [a foreign correspondent] are asking me whether we are going to retract on that view, or rebut on what navy veterans are saying. Not at all, I don't comment on what service veterans have said."

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"As far as we [the BJP] are concerned, a former prime minister of the Congress Party took a family vacation on a naval warship. If you chose to ask for votes in the names of those [Rajiv Gandhi] leaders, then you are also answerable for their misdemeanours. An entire warship and a flotilla are taken away to another destination," Sitharaman stated.

On Thursday, the Congress Party challenged Prime Minister Modi's allegations, citing the statements of three former Indian Navy vice admirals, who claimed that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was on an official visit to the Lakshadweep islands and had also visited the INS Viraat in his official capacity and spent two nights on board.

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The naval veterans also confirmed that no Italians or other foreigners accompanied Gandhi on the ship, saying that they would have been court-martialled had this been the case.

A former chief of the Indian Navy, Admiral L. Ramdass, also clarified no ships were diverted for the personal use of the Gandhi family.

​Congress President Rahul Gandhi, son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, admitted to visiting and staying on the INS Viraat.

"I've been on the Viraat. I've been with my father on it when he was the PM. Of course there are pictures. He had gone for an official visit… and I accompanied him…. Holiday on the INS Viraat? That's crazy. Why would anyone holiday on an aircraft carrier? It's not a cruise ship!", Rahul Gandhi told the Hindustan Times in an interview.

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Twitter was blazing with comments, while some called it a non-issue as it happened 30 years ago. There was no dearth of those who saw it as misuse of official privilege.

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