INS Viraat carrying Rajiv Gandhi

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday once again targeted the Nehru-Gandhi family, addressing a rally at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. The prime minister said, in 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister, he went to an isolated island in Lakshadweep for a 10-day holiday.

Rajiv Gandhi
A photograph of the vacation published in India Today magazine

The prime minister recalled that Rajiv Gandhi’s family had used the Indian Navy aircraft carrier INS Viraat for the holiday. The prime minister did not name the island, but the complete details of that vacation of the family had appeared in India Today on 31 January 1988. Journalist Anita Pratap had written sequentially the episodes of that picnic in her report.

“Can you imagine that a frontline warship of the Indian armed forces could be used as a taxi for a personal holiday? One dynasty did it,” Modi said in his election speech.

Excerpts from the India Today report

The Navy was made to host the Gandhi family and Rajiv Gandhi’s in-laws, and a helicopter was deployed in their service, too, Modi said, recalling the story in the media in 1988.

“He (Rajiv Gandhi) insulted INS Viraat by using it as a personal taxi. This happened when Rajiv Gandhi and his family was on a 10-day vacation. INS Viraat was meant for securing our maritime boundary. But it was misused for the Gandhi family’s vacation,” Modi said.

The prime minister recalled that INS Viraat was also made to halt at an island for 10 days.

“His in-laws, who had come from Italy, accompanied Rajiv Gandhi. The question is whether the security of the country was not compromised by taking foreigners on board a warship,” Modi asked.

Related: Archives on India’s sixth prime minister

Luxurious trip of Rajiv Gandhi, family, relatives, friends

The then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had gone to a beautiful island with his whole family and special friends to celebrate New Year in 1987. Rajiv Gandhi’s friends included film star Amitabh Bachchan and his family.

In southern India, 465 km west of Cochin lies a beautiful island situated near Lakshadweep, which is named Bangaram. The entire island is deserted. The area spread over 0.5 sq km was carefully selected.

There is no restriction on the arrival of foreign nationals here. PN Agarwal, the then police chief of Lakshadweep, had said that the Bangaram island was safe and kind of isolated from the world. The geographical location of this area makes it really private for vacationing people.

A great effort was made to hide this highly secretive tour of the Nehru-Gandhi family from the media. Still, the media got a whiff of the vacation well before it had started: On 26th of that month when Rahul Gandhi flew in, with four friends of his, by a white helicopter of the Lakshadweep administration.

The family, relatives and friends had reached the island in different groups for holidaying. Rahul Gandhi’s group was the first. The government tried to hide Rajiv Gandhi’s personal trip at the time. An unsuccessful attempt was made to keep the media away from it. The government monitored both land and sea routes of Rajiv Gandhi and his guests to maintain the privacy of the then prime minister’s leave.

But those who were part of this holiday were all too high-profile to suppress the news. Four friends of Rahul and Priyanka, Sonia Gandhi’s sister, brother-in-law and his daughter, Sonia’s mother R Mino, her brother and uncle were part of the vacation. These were the relatives. The tour included Rajiv Gandhi’s special friend Amitabh Bachchan, his wife Jaya Bachchan and three children. Among the three children — two of Amitabh and the daughter of his brother Ajitabh. Ajitabh was those days stuck in a case of violation of the Foreign Exchange Regulatory Act (FERA).

Apart from this, another family was part of this tour. Bijendra Singh was the brother of former Union minister Arun Singh. Two foreign guests were included in the plush party.

Rajiv and Sonia reached the island in the afternoon of 30 December while Amitabh Bachchan arrived from Cochin-Kavaratti helicopter after one day. Jaya Bachchan and her children, along with Priyanka, had reached the spot four days ago.

An attempt was made to hide the news of the arrival of Amitabh Bachchan at the Bangaram island, too.

But on 31 December, another island Kavaratti, situated at some distance from Bangaram, saw Amitabh’s helicopter land for refuelling. It took 50 minutes. After this, the news spread like wildfire.

After returning from the holiday, Amitabh Bachchan encountered an Indian Express photographer. The film star was upset about this. He warned the photographer, but the journalist had done his job.

Old story dug out by a Twitter user

On 3 May, Twitter user Devi Prasad Rao dug the story out from the archives.

Towards the end of the thread of tweets, revealed the source of his information, which is the media story in the first half of this report.

As this is a social media generation, where VIPs and commoners alike use platforms like Google and Twitter to keep themselves informed, it was a matter of time that either the BJP would raise the issue, expecting it to get a lot of traction during the election season, or the Congress would question the resurfacing of a part of the history of one of their beloved leaders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seized the opportunity, as it gelled perfectly with his recent raising of the issue of alleged corruption under Rajiv Gandhi’s rule, which the Congress found offensive.

In the meantime, Rao has alleged that, since the day his thread of tweets above was liked and re-tweeted by hundreds of users of the micro-blogging site, Twitter has been “shadow-banning” him.