A full-blown controversy broke out on Thursday over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's allegation that Rajiv Gandhi used INS Viraat as a "personal taxi" with former Navy chief Admiral (retd) L Ramdas as well as a former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier rejecting it and the charge becoming fodder for a political slugfest between the Congress and the BJP.
While the Congress alleged that Modi is a "serial liar" who has made Indian Air Force jets his "own taxi", the BJP hit back with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley saying that the "kaamdars" used India's naval fleet to strike at terror, "naamdars" used them for personal reasons.
While addressing an election rally here on Wednesday, Modi cited a old media report to allege that Gandhi used the INS Viraat to go on a holiday with his friends and in-laws as if it was his "personal taxi".
Contradicting Modi, Wajahat Habibullah, who was the then administrator of Lakshwadeep, said the late prime minister and his wife had come to attend a meeting of the Island Development Authority in Kavaratti which lasted for two days and after the official work got over, they left for Bangaram island to join the family and other guests.
"His (Gandhi's) holidays had nothing to do with the official function. The Prime Minister (Modi) should check facts before making such statements," he said.
Vice Admiral (Retd) Vinod Pasricha, who was commanding the ship during the then prime minister's visit, trashed reports that Gandhi's friends and as well as his wife Sonia's relatives were onboard the warship when he was enroute to Lakshadweep from Trivandrum.
"All protocols were followed during Gandhi's official visit in 1987. No foreigners or other guests were present onboard the ship. The claim was totally wrong," Vice Admiral (Retd) Pasricha said when asked about Gandhi's visit in later part of 1987.
He said Gandhi visited Lakshadweep to attend a meeting of the Island Development Authority, and his wife Sonia and his son Rahul were onboard the warship during the trip, adding the then PM also visited Bangaram during the two-day trip.
Joining Modi in his attack against Gandhis, Jaitley tweeted,"the Kaamdars use India's naval assets to strike at terror. The Naamdars use them for personal vacations with family and in-laws."
Modi often uses the word "naamdar" to refer to the members of the Gandhi family, and "kaamdar" for people who work hard for the nation.
Hitting back at Modi, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera alleged that he is a "serial liar" and has made Indian Air Force jets his "own taxi".
Khera also said Pasricha has clarified that Rajiv Gandhi was on an official visit on INS Viraat and not on a vacation.
Ramdas, who was the Southern Navy Commander then and was also onboard the INS Viraat, in a statement, said "no foreigners visited INS Viraat and that the prime minister and his wife were onboard the aircraft carrier" following all official protocol.
"I would like to state unequivocally, that this was not the case," he said referring to the media report which was cited by Modi.
Ramdas said he issued the statement after getting written responses on the issue from Vice Admiral Pasricha, Admiral (retd) Arun Prakash, who was commanding INS Vindhyagiri and Vice Admiral (retd) Madanjit Singh, who was the commanding officer of INS Ganga.
Ramdas also asserted that, "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, in a tweet, said "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."
Talking to reporters in Bhopal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman described the former Congress Prime Minister as a martyr, but added it does not mean "we wont talk about misrule, corruption and policies" of his government.
She also said that the issue related to the alleged misuse of INS Viraat by the Gandhi family had been in public domain for long and maintained two leading national news magazines had written about it at length in 2013.
Criticising Modi, NCP chief Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra on Thursday said it did not behove the prime minister to make such a remark about the person who was not alive.
Reacting to the recent allegations made by Modi, Pawar told reporters here, "That person (Rajiv Gandhi) is not alive. His death was painful, for anyone."
He said two individuals -- Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi -- from the Gandhi family became prime minister and were killed.
"And after such a big sacrifice, it does not behove (the prime minister) to use such a language about the person," the former Union minister said.