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. One of its great advantages is that by sailing in international waters, it does not interfere with any territorial sovereignty and thus obviates the need for over- flight authorisations from third party countries, reduces the times and transit distances of aircraft and therefore significantly increase the time of availability in the combat zone. As a very vital strategic asset of the navy, it needs to be accompanied by a substantial force of surface and sub-surface vessels.
A country like India, with a sprawling coastline of 7,600 km including its island territories and 2,000,000 square km of Exclusive Economic Zone and two adversarial neighbours, 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.
In the unprecedented fever-pitch pre-poll ping-pong of accusations/allegations between the BJP and the Congress involving India’s security, integrity and the armed forces over the past three years, India has been unfortunate to witness some Congress leaders stoop down to the most ridiculous and disgraceful levels of rants/terminologies and even cozying 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. There were no other parties held on board INS Viraat or, for that matter, any other ship in our fleet during that time,” he said.
However, despite Government’s efforts to keep the media away, detailed stories got published about Rajiv Gandhi hosting a new year bash at Lakshadweep’s uninhabited 0.5 square km Bangaram Island, 465 km west of Cochin, chosen carefully as it is the only one in the strategic archipelago on which foreigners and liquor are not banned. The list of invitees reported included four friends of Rahul and Priyanka, Sonia Gandhi’s sister, brother-in-law and their daughter, her widowed mother, Mrs. R.Maino, her brother and a maternal uncle. Also mentioned were former MP, Amitabh Bachchan, his wife Jaya, their three children and the daughter of Amitabh’s brother Ajitabh, being investigated for suspected violation of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act. Other guests were the wife and daughter of Bijendra Singh, brother of former Union minister Arun Singh and two more foreigners. Also mentioned was the move of a 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.”
Should a prime minister indulge in such extravagance extracted from tax-payers’ money and strategic military assets?