An aircraft carrier is a huge warship that serves as an airbase in seawaters. It has a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft. It is the hub ship of a fleet, which enables a navy to project air power without depending on local/land bases for conducting maritime aircraft operations.
Above all, by sailing in international waters, an aircraft carrier serves several critical and strategic areas –
- It does not interfere with any territorial sovereignty
- Obviates the need for over-flight authorisations from third-party countries
- Reduces the times and transit distances of aircraft
- Improves availability in the combat zone
However, as a strategic asset of the navy, it needs to be accompanied by substantial force of surface and sub-surface vessels.
Aircraft Carrier ‘Taxi’ amidst BJP-Congress Wrangling
India has a sprawling coastline of 7,600km including its island territories and 2,000,000sqkm of Exclusive Economic Zone. Not to forget the two adversarial neighbours, with which India must ideally have at least three aircraft carriers. So far, except for two brief interludes of having two aircraft carriers, it has had only one and that must be available 24×7 for the nation’s maritime defence.
Add to it the unprecedented pre-poll banter between BJP and Congress involving India’s security, integrity, and the armed forces over the past three years. It resulted in some unfortunate instances of India witnessing Congress leaders engaging in disgraceful levels of rants and even cosying up with Pakistan and China. This led to Prime Minister Narendra Modi claiming in an election speech that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had used aircraft carrier INS Viraat “like a taxi” for a personal holiday along with his family during the 1987-88 new year.
The then top brass of the Navy denied the comments, stating that the late Rajiv Gandhi was on-board the vessel on an official trip en route to the Lakshadweep Islands.
“I would like to state unequivocally that this (allegation that Mr Gandhi was on holiday with his family) was not the case…There were no foreigners with them. I, as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C), Southern Naval Command, based in Cochin, also boarded INS Viraat. Four other ships were with INS Viraat as part of Fleet exercises. As FOC-in-C, I hosted a dinner for them on board INS Viraat.” No other parties held onboard INS Viraat or, for that matter, any other ship in our fleet during that time, the statement read.
Cover Up Efforts Washed Away by Detailed Reports
Despite Government’s efforts to keep the media away, detailed stories found their way into the news. The pieces included some interesting facts about the ‘new year bash’ hosted by Rajiv Gandhi.
Lakshadweep’s uninhabited 0.5 square km Bangaram Island, 465 km west of Cochin. Interestingly, Bangaram is the only one in the strategic archipelago, where foreigners and liquor are allowed.
List of invitees
- Four friends of Rahul and Priyanka
- Sonia Gandhi’s sister, brother-in-law and their daughter
- Sonia Gandhi’s widowed mother, Mrs R. Maino, her brother and a maternal uncle.
- Amitabh Bachchan, his wife Jaya, their two children and the daughter of Amitabh’s brother Ajitabh
- Wife and daughter of Bijendra Singh, brother of former Union minister Arun Singh
- Two other foreigners
Also mentioned was the move of huge consignments of choicest of foods and beverages.
One news report stated:
“Questionable actions were, however, in evidence. India’s premier warship, INS Viraat, was used to transport the Gandhis and moved in the Arabian Sea for 10 days. Its daily expenditure at sea is astronomical as the Viraat travels with an entire retinue of escort ships. A submarine was also reported to be in attendance and some defence experts questioned the justification of depriving the navy of its most effective fighting component merely to suit Rajiv’s holiday plans. Considerable expense was also incurred in setting up a special satellite link up at Agatti for the duration of the holiday.”
To sum up, one wonders, should a prime minister indulge in such extravagance, from tax-payers’ money and strategic military assets?