New Delhi: Former naval officers refuted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that INS Viraat was used as a “personal taxi” by former PM Rajiv Gandhi for his “ten-day holiday” with family and friends at Lakshadweep in 1987. They also denied that his Italian in-laws or friends were hosted on the aircraft carrier or its accompanying boats.
The officers said that only Sonia and Rahul Gandhi accompanied Rajiv on the “official tour” and were on board.
Congress leader Sam Pitroda, while reacting to the BJP raising the 1984 riots issue in the wake of upcoming polls in Delhi and Punjab, told a TV channel: “84 main jo hua so hua” (what happened in 1984 has happened) and demanded that the saffron party give an account of its five years of work. The BJP, led by its president Amit Shah, latched on to this statement to attack the Congress.
How did the media report these stories and more?
With #RajivViraatVacation and headlines like “India’s Navy Gandhi ki Sena” and “Cong slams BJP’s ‘faaltu’ issues” the channel discussed the importance of the matter 32 years on.
Anchor Navika Kumar reported how for the holiday at Bangaram island, Viraat was deployed. She said the carrier moved with its “entire entourage of ships and a submarine”.
The channel also showed a clip of Rahul insisting that this was only a ploy to deviate from the Rafale issue: “If you want to talk of Rajiv ji or me please do, but also tell people what you did in the Rafale case.”
Then Congress leader Anand Sharma was shown retaliating: “PM Modi has no family, if he had one he too would have gone there.”
Speaking to the channel, former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah denied that Viraat was ever used the way it was being alleged.
Political analyst Nishant Verma accused Modi of raising an old issue to camouflage current topics. “Modi is revealing a narcissistic personality disorder. Nehru, Indira and Rajiv are all deceased and so is Viraat,” he said.
Kumar asked if these issues were being raised because BJP has “lost track of current-day problems”.
Commander (Retd.) V.K. Jaitly, differed saying: “Ships are never deceased, they are decommissioned. I was on the ship and they (Rajiv and Sonia) did sail for 24 hours – one admiral’s room was converted for their comfort.”
He added that for a month, Viraat and the five ships with it prepared for the visit and then they set sail from Cochin to Lakshadweep. “There was also a party on the ship and the Gandhis were there. I do not recall seeing any of his friends or relatives though.”
The channel also quoted Commodore (Retd.) Harinder Sikka as saying, “Entire Navy was at that time fuming with anger.”
Channel’s founding editor Prannoy Roy and senior correspondent Kamaal Khan spoke to Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and his wife Dimple about how the party’s alliance with BSP-RLD was performing.
Akhilesh said people are voting for the alliance as they realise this was the way to keep Modi out of power. He said with so many sensibilities involved, “Mayawati and I are trying to ensure that nothing is said which creates confusion.”
Khan asked about SP-BSP’s future ties with Congress saying, “It is said there are no permanent rivals in politics”.
Akhilesh noted, “I cannot predict the future, but I can say one thing for sure that SP and BSP will decide together on what is to be done after the result comes on May 23. The alliance will remain after that too.”
To Prannoy’s query on “Would you like Mayawati to be PM?” Akhilesh said: “I just want someone from UP to be PM, only not the man from Banaras – he has harmed the country a great deal.”
With #HuaToHua, the channel discussed Pitroda’s remark. Anchor Arnab Goswami tried hard to make it an emotive issue. Recalling the violence of 1984, he said, “tyres were brought by Congress leaders and Sikhs were brought to the middle of streets and they were burnt with kerosene.”
Manjit Singh GK of Shiromani Akali Dal said as Sikhs burned, the rioters were also seen “dancing and celebrating”.
Right-wing sympathiser and columnist Ratan Sharda charged that the Congress has been pardoned a hundred riots. “They are not concerned about the lives of the people.”
Political analyst Abdul Razzak Khan said, “It (the 1984 riots issue) is the last trump card in BJP’s hand, or else why would it bring up a 35-year-old story now?”
He also insisted that “former PM Manmohan Singh and the Congress have already apologised. BJP is raising the issue now only to win the seven seats of Delhi.”
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The channel covered the “Battle for Bengal” as “Modi, Mamata in face off”.
Anchor Shiv Aroor asked if Modi is targeting Mamata because he feels that “this is a leader who can cause trouble.” The programme also listed out the numerous occasions when the two leaders lashed out at each other.
BJP spokesperson Amit Malviya said the fact that his party has 15-20 workers on every booth has unnerved TMC. Also, “Trinamool brings in parochialism into politics since it is confined to the state whereas the BJP is able to talk about national issues as well.”
He said West Bengal is one of the states where the BJP has made major gains in five years, “PM Modi had said east will be our focus from governance and political point of view. So after making inroads in Assam and Tripura, it is now focussed on West Bengal and Odisha. We will win upwards of 22 seats in Bengal.”
Garga Chatterjee of the TMC responded: “English diction skills do not cover for ignorance. TMC is a national party like the BJP.” As for how people view “governance and growth”, he said in the last five years, only one election has happened in the state in 2016 in which the BJP got just three out of 295 seats. In the last Lok Sabha election too, “they won just two and those too at the back of divisive politics.”
The channel also had a report in ‘Masterstroke’ on the Modi-Mamata fight in West Bengal.
It ran headlines like “Modi ki lalkaar, ma-mati-manush kay naray par prahar” (Modi’s challenge, attack on mother-earth-citizenship slogan) and “Mamata ki mamata par PM kay teekhay sawal” (PM’s sharp questions on Mamata’s motherly affection) as it also reported on recent verbal duels between the two leaders.
In “Ravish Kumar kay Saath”, the anchor spoke about how in this election season, the discourse has completely missed the plight of the large number of students from poor families who reach big cities to pursue higher education.
“Prayagraj main pratiyogi pariksha ki taiyaari” (Preparing for competitive exams in Prayagraj) ran a headline, as Kumar spoke to about half a dozen students in Allahabad, who shared a room in a lodge.
Some of them said that they were upset with the examination schedule as often the state civil service exams do not take place on time and they become overage waiting for them. “You can only appear for them till the age of 28,” one of them pointed out.
Another lamented that “no leader is talking about unemployment”.
The students also disclosed how their families endure hardships in supporting their education.
“My father is an autorickshaw driver in Mumbai. He sends Rs 4,000 per month for my brother and me. We stay together and adjust with partners so that the room cost gets shared.”
Disclosing how a small 9 ft X 9 ft room can cost up to Rs 4,500 per month, the students said they are left with little money to indulge in any extravagance, barring an occasional kulfi.
Anchor-editor Sudhir Chaudhary interviewed Modi as the channel spoke about “Narendra Modi ka Plan B kya hai” (What is Modi’s Plan B).
When asked about his use of harsh words against Rajiv Gandhi, Modi said he only spoke about how Rajiv’s coterie projected him to be ‘Mr Clean’. “I only said when he went, it was with the tag of Bofors corruption. He was a PM and what happened during his reign, will we not discuss it? Do we not discuss the Emergency during Indira’s rule?”
He said the Gandhis use the family name to get votes and so will have to answer why Rajiv allowed the Bhopal gas tragedy accused to flee from the airport, his stand in the Shah Bano case and Quattrocchi’s link to the family. “You will have to answer why after 1984 riots Rajiv said when a big tree falls, the earth shakes – you will have to answer if you raise legacy issues.”
The channel also reported the Viraat episode, saying former friends of Gandhi family, like actor Amitabh Bachchan, should come forward now and reveal the truth. It said the Bachchan family too was hosted by the Gandhis during those holidays.
The channel also reported on the allegation of Aam Aadmi Party’s East Delhi candidate Atishi Marlena that pamphlets were distributed by BJP and its East Delhi candidate Gautam Gambhir attacking her character. It also showed Gambhir’s response in which he accused AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal of being behind the malicious charge.