Prime Minister Narendra Modi ignored the pleas of his home state Gujarat, and two BJP ruled states, Maharashtra and Goa, in handing over to Andhra Pradesh the coveted INS Viraat, the Indian Navy’s warship that is set for decommissioning in three months. He took into consideration the efficiency of a state in maintaining and managing the warship rather than political priorities.
The over six-decade-old world famous aircraft carrier will leave its home, the Mumbai port, and settle down in Visakhapatnam as a naval museum-cum-luxury star hotel. INS Viraat, originally called HMS Herms when the UK built it in 1943, had joined the Indian Navy in 1986.
Though the decision to allot INS Viraat to Andhra Pradesh was announced by the Prime Minister himself during the International Fleet Review in Visakhapatnam on 7 February, the decisive role played by him in settling the last minute jostling among the states to get one of the oldest and largest warships after its “retirement” came to light as The Sunday Guardian spoke to sources in AP Tourism Department.
The Indian Navy, as well as the Ministry of Defence, was keen on preserving INS Viraat, a warship that has seen both British and Indian wars, as a war museum and not to hand it over to ship breakers. The Centre asked all the nine maritime states of the country – West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat – if they were interested in keeping INS Viraat as a museum-cum-entertainment hub once it is decommissioned in May 2016. The Ministry of Defence had sought specific proposals for this.
West Bengal, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Kerala failed to respond to the offer. Although the remaining five states expressed interest to keep the warship with them, only Andhra Pradesh submitted a detailed financial plan to convert the ship into a museum-cum-star hotel.
Goa, home state of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Maharashtra, a major maritime state on the western front, and Gujarat, Prime Minister Modi’s home state made last-ditch efforts to bag INS Viraat. However, sources said that Goa failed to come up with a solid financial proposal, while Gujarat put up a weak case without specifying how and where it wants to showcase the warship.
That left only Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh in the race. Though Maharashtra, a BJP-ruled state has the advantage of Mumbai, a key hub of Indian Navy, the Prime Minister has gone by its inability to maintain INS Vikrant as a museum due to financial problems. Maharashtra got INS Vikrant after its decommissioning in 1997, but sold it to ship-breaking firms in 2013.
The Prime Minister hence decided not to hand INS Viraat to Maharashtra. “He openly told officials to prefer a state that is ready to conserve and protect INS Viraat for future generations,” said a senior AP official who preferred anonymity.
AP Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, whose TDP is a constituent of the ruling NDA at the Centre, has lobbied hard since 2014 to get INS Viraat, whose technical name is R22 and was India’s flagship till 2013 (till INS Vikramaditya joined the Navy), as a permanent naval museum-cum-world-class luxury hotel at Visakhapatnam.
The CM has expressed his readiness to invest around Rs 400 crore on renovation of INS Viraat as a hotel on sea waters, but sought the help of the Centre to a tune of around Rs 300 crore in decommissioning which includes removing its war heads, weaponry and other military installations. If the Centre agrees to it, INS Viraat after its decommissioning will be a joint venture of AP and the Indian Navy. He was particular in bagging INS Viraat and converting it into a top-class star hotel on the sea waters off Visakhapatnam coast. The plan to build a luxury hotel on the ship is to keep its maintenance expenses which are estimated to cost around Rs 100 crore per year. The INS Viraat with around 500 luxury rooms and two dozen suites is expected to draw global tourists. CM Nadiu is also keen on showcasing INS Viraat as a major global tourist attraction.